Tuesdays with Corey interview with Faye Sykes and Susan Knox
Faye Sykes takes the complex subject of Social Security and helps individuals and families in many cases realize thousands of extra dollars in Social Security benefits through proper planning. Faye brings 12 years of experience as a wealth manager and is a graduate of Syracuse University. As a national expert in Social Security Planning, she speaks regularly at live events, leads workshops, and has appeared on local and national TV and radio shows.
Susan Knox is the leading business development advisor and an essential asset in networking in today’s competitive business environment. As president of Corporate Connections, Knox is an expert in providing strategic and relationship marketing to build brand awareness for emerging and established companies. In 1999, Knox founded Corporate Connections, a consulting firm specializing in business development strategy, implementation and execution. Knox’s highly focused and deliberate approach to understanding her clients’ business proposition and identifying their competitive edge enables her to identify and introduce revenue-producing relationships.
A tenth generation Georgian and native Atlantan, Knox’s vast knowledge of the Southeast business community and her expansive breadth of contacts has provided valuable relationships and revenue resources to companies in the U.S. Knox uses her skills to elevate clients’ visibility and profitability by strategically positioning and promoting them. She excels in making connections to high-level executives, business leaders, key decision-makers, industry experts and investors to facilitate sales, distribution, referral partnerships, strategic alliances, channel partners and capital-raising efforts. She builds “top of mind awareness” in the business community for clients.
Knox has served as a keynote speaker at numerous conferences and events for various organizations, including IBM, Oglethorpe University and the Sandy Springs (GA) Business Association. She also has many taught workshops and courses, including “Mastering the Art of Networking,” “Turning Relationships into Revenue” and “Business Development Best Practices.” Knox also provides philanthropic support to many for organizations, including SafeHouse Outreach, Lifework Leadership, Founding Member of KSU Entrepreneurship Center, High Tech Ministries, Desire Street Ministries and the National Republican Party. She previously served on the Board of Directors of the Buckhead Business Association, Prevent Blindness Georgia and the Executive Sales and Marketing Association. Prior to establishing Corporate Connections, Knox founded and operated the largest jewelry wholesale company in the Southeast, The Regency Collection. For 13 years, Knox designed and created private collections for jewelry manufacturers and sold them to high-end boutiques. Knox sold The Regency Collection to a private investor in 1997.
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it's time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city's best businesses and the people who lead them.
Katy Galli: Hi, everyone. And welcome to another episode of Atlanta Business Radio. And it's Tuesday, which means it's time for Tuesdays with Corey. And I'm joined, of course, by our co-host, Corey Rieck with The Long-Term Care Planning Group. How are you doing, Corey?
Corey Rieck: I'm doing great, Katy. Thank you very much.
Katy Galli: Of course. And how is your Fourth of July? Was it good?
Corey Rieck: It was, 20th year in a row. I ran the Peachtree. I have my own little streak going.
Katy Galli: Really? That's awesome.
Corey Rieck: It is.
Katy Galli: So, I heard it was pretty cool that morning. It wasn't as hot as usual.
Corey Rieck: You heard wrong. It was very warm.
Katy Galli: I heard wrong? Yeah?
Corey Rieck: Very, very warm.
Katy Galli: Yeah. So, how did it go? How did it compare to previous years?
Corey Rieck: It was a great race. It's a great test. The first three miles kind of really in. It's all downhill. And the last three miles are mostly uphill.
Katy Galli: They tricked you, yeah.
Corey Rieck: You just to have to leave enough in the tank to finish it strong. And it's extremely well organized. It's a very well run race. And I look forward to it every year.
Katy Galli: Absolutely. And 20 years, that's awesome. You got to run it 20 times. It's cool. So, today, who did you bring with you in studio?
Corey Rieck: Well, we have another great show today on Tuesdays with Corey. We have Faye Sykes, who is a Social Security Expert. Faye, welcome.
Faye Sykes: Good morning. Thank you for having me here.
Corey Rieck: And we also have Susan Knox, who is a business development expert, and she runs Corporate Connections.
Susan Knox: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Corey Rieck: Welcome, Susan. We're going to start off by talking to Faye and getting to know her a little bit. Now, Faye, you're not from here, are you?
Faye Sykes: Oh, don't you know? I grew up in Wisconsin. And I, actually, grew up in Wisconsin, Upstate New York, Utah, and Alaska. And then, as an adult, I lived in another five states.
Corey Rieck: You're kind of like that Johnny Cash song, I've Been Everywhere, man.
Faye Sykes: Exactly.
Corey Rieck: What brought you to Atlanta?
Faye Sykes: Well, actually, I used to be a commodity broker for waste management. And I had developed the US to Asia direct export of recycled waste paper. So, they had relocated me down here in 2003. And then, in 2005, I decided to make a career change and became a financial advisor.
Corey Rieck: Where did you go to school?
Faye Sykes: I went to Syracuse University in Upstate New York.
Corey Rieck: You have been everywhere?
Faye Sykes: I have.
Corey Rieck: You've built two very, very good businesses, and you are a Social Security Expert. Tell us about how you landed in that role and what led you to build that expertise.
Faye Sykes: Well, I've been working as a financial advisor since 2005. And I do focus on the women's market, really helping women with education and navigating how to put their financial life together. But about seven years ago, I had a woman who was widowed, and her husband had taken a pension only on his own life, and then had taken Social Security early. And in their case, it was a 25% permanent reduction of benefit for not only his life, her life since she had been an at-home mom, and the gentleman died eight months later. So, she went from a-
Corey Rieck: That's terrible.
Faye Sykes: Yeah, it was really awful. But she went from about $6700 a month down to about $1620, and it wasn't enough to live on. And basically, all the planning has to be done on the front end. You can't come after the fact. So, when I get upset and mad, I learn. So, really started digging in. It took me over five years to really understand Social Security in-depth, and I really have become a national expert in it.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, that's outstanding. You also have the NSA designation. Tell us a little bit about that.
Faye Sykes: Yeah, that is the National Security Advisor designation. So, there's two gentlemen that teach the course. One is a over 30-year Social Security Administration. He like managed the Social Security office up in Ohio. And then, the other gentleman is a CPA, and they've turned around and done this full time. So, they're great experts. But with my background, with the financial planning, I had to know how to really integrate that into the full financial plan.
Corey Rieck: Is it fair to say that Social Security is overlooked?
Faye Sykes:Absolutely. In prior firms that I looked at in my training, I was actually told to just think about it as an afterthought. Don't really include it in the planning. It's just gravy on the top. Well, what I found through all my training is that the average American relies on Social Security for 40 to 60% of their retirement income and 30% of Americans rely on it for 100%. And there-
Corey Rieck: Wow!
Faye Sykes: Yeah, it's huge. It's much more than people realize. And almost 50% of Americans take it at age 62, which is a huge mistake. So, there's like three main things when you take it at 62. Number one is that is a 23% to 30% permanent reduction in benefits depending on your birth year. So, it's like think about if you were making a hundred grand a year, I'm just going to accept 70 grand for the rest of my life. And they have an average of about 2.5% cost of living increase. And when you accept money at a lower rate, over time, those cost of living increases don't have the same impact versus delaying. Number two is that if you take Social Security before your full retirement age, which is between 65 and 67, depending on the birth year, and you make over seven ... it's like $17,080 for 2018. Every $2 over that, they take $1 of your Social Security benefit away.
So, I mean, I've helped folks that still make over 300 grand a year that were, "Oh, I'm just going to take it early," and I'm like, "Not only you're locking in the lower amount, number is every two bucks over that $17,080, you lose a dollar. And number three is that depending on if you're single or married, there's a threshold of like 30 to 40 grand where anything you make over that, it's 50%, and then 85% of the Social Security can be included in your gross taxes." So, taxes reduction in the current benefit, and then a permanent reduction on the benefits.
So, there's a lot of factors that go into it. There's almost 2800 regulations that oversee Social Security. And a lot of people tell me, "Oh, I'll just call Social Security, and they'll tell me." And the thing is that they are directed as a government entity to only answer questions. They cannot give advice.
Corey Rieck: You have vast experience as a wealth planner, as a wealth advisor. Does that help you with get lent perspective with the advice you're trying to give on the Social Security front of things?
Faye Sykes: Absolutely. Essentially what we do is if we're integrating a Social Security plan and with the regular financial plan, typically, we'll show people like, "Here's an A, B or an A, B and C." Well, two weeks ago I had a couple that they're like, "This is what we're ideally thinking of." So, I showed them what they were thinking, and then I showed them a maximized plan. So, if they went the way that they were originally gonna do it, they would be at a collective of about 52 grand a year at age 70. With proper planning, we helped them, they're gonna get $78,000 at the same exact age. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have 78 versus 52.
Corey Rieck: Well, that's tremendously impactful to be sure. It. I did not realize until I met with you a couple of weeks ago that there was so much behind this, as it speaks to the planning for Social Security. And is this something that you think you could take into companies and organizations in terms of advice?
Faye Sykes: Oh, absolutely. I'm hired to come in and speak to different groups, and corporations, and trade show conventions. But one of the things that we're working on right now is building out software to have this as a group benefit for corporations, nonprofits, and government entities.
Corey Rieck: Do you find it that men or women are more are less informed on the issue of Social Security? Is that the same across the board?
Faye Sykes: I would say that for the average person, there's a real lack of understanding. And I'm also going to say for the most financial advisors out there, they really don't know. And we also do partner up with other financial advisor and planner groups. And with the software we're building out, the plan is also to help white label it for them. I don't really care if my name's on it. We just want to help as many people as we can.
Corey Rieck: So, the people you're helping are what I would call retail folks, people like myself that might hire you to give advice on that, as well as other people that are in sort of similar businesses. They may be a financial planner. They may be a wealth advisor. They could use your expertise to help their clients, right?
Faye Sykes: Exactly.
Corey Rieck: I mean, and there's no really ... there's no conflict, there's no real competition because you're just trying to help them with your sphere of expertise, that being Social Security.
Faye Sykes: Exactly. So, yeah, when we're working with other advisors and things of that nature, for personal security benefit planners, we are flat-fee planning service. So, it's a one-time flat fee. And if we're working with somebody as financial advisor, we actually send a copy of the plan to the individual and their advisor, and that advisor can take that information and integrate it into the plan. For that part of my business, we just want to do the Social Security retirement income plan.
Corey Rieck: That seems very useful. So, you generate an actual document-
Faye Sykes: Correct.
Corey Rieck: ... for somebody that engages your services, so they have something to walk away from once they interact with you, and ask the questions, and so on.
Faye Sykes: Exactly. So, yeah, the document, we basically say, "Hey, here's what she asked for. And then here's a couple alternative plans." And then, they can see that impact, not only now, but in the future. So, if somebody really has good longevity in their genetics and all of that, my big advice is delay as long as possible between your full retirement age and age 70. There's an 8% increase every year, which I don't know about you, but getting a guaranteed currently, under current law, an 8% increase every year, really huge. It's very impactful.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, it seems so. How are you getting your clients? And it seems like you have two different directions that you could go. You could help advisors with your expertise. And then, you can help you sort of retail clients, as we referenced earlier. Are you looking for one or the other? Are you looking for both of them?
Faye Sykes: We're really looking for both. The thing is that there's a lot of folks that do not work directly with an advisor. So, people that are working with the advisor that need that information, we would like to help them. But there's a lot of do-it-yourselfers here in the US, where a lot of people that work for a company and they have 401(k)s at work, they just have never really saw the need for working out with somebody as far as the advising side. So, working directly with folks. And we work with a lot of expats. So, think of people with Coca-Cola, you've got a lot of people that have worked overseas, or they're going to retire overseas. We help them navigate all of that. We've got a client right now who's Canadian, and there's some bilateral agreements. He's Canadian. We're helping him train-
Corey Rieck: What does that mean?
Faye Sykes: That means that like US and Canada have an agreement together. So, think of it just like a dual agreement. You can transfer your US security into the Canadian system or vice versa. So, in this case, the gentleman wants to stay here in the US. We're going to shift his Social Security credits from the Canadian system into the US.
Corey Rieck: Is that advantageous in that circumstance?
Faye Sykes: Yeah. For him, it's going to vest him in. Social Security looks at the top 35 years of your highest earning years. And so, for him, it's just gonna help him have more years vested in our system.
Corey Rieck: Also, something that I was unaware of. How are you getting your clients now? I mean, you're obviously well-spoken. Do you do a lot of speaking engagements and some things of that nature?
Faye Sykes: I do about a hundred speaking events per year, So, I do a TV, radio, conventions, speak to groups, just a variety of different things. Number two is I spend a lot of time. I have a team that helps me with the social media. And so, we try to get the information out through the Web. And then, lastly, once somebody has hired us, and they see the work that we do and how that impact for their future retirement, we get a ton of referrals.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. Do you have a team of people that supports you behind the scenes? You referenced to your social media folks, but do you have a team of people in the office that are helping you follow up.
Faye Sykes: Exactly. I've got three retirement advisors that we delegate the work to, I've got two social media people, and then I have an admin. So, as we continue to grow, we'll be adding more people. And on my Scarlet Oak business, Scarlet Oak Financial Services, which is my full-service, holistic planning, Angie, a prior guest that was on your show, she just went through the NSSA training about a week and a half ago. So, she'll be coming on and helping us with some of that planning as well.
Corey Rieck: Tremendous resource there, to be sure is Angie. What kind of clients are you looking for? If you had to lay out some specific bullets, two or three bullets, what would be your ideal client there?
Faye Sykes: Well, that's a great question. Number one is people that are about 55 to 65. The thing is that the pre-planning piece is so important but the average person that hires us is in that 55 to 65-year-old range. It can vary. We do have about 8 million grandparents who are raising grandkids. So, sometimes, people that are already on Social Security, we've been able to come in and impact. But the other huge area are self-employed people. And so, even people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s well before their retirement.
Faye Sykes: I wrote a blog a year or two ago called Businessowners, Stop Screwing Yourself. And I call it the trifecta where, you get people that are not paying ... they pay themselves as little as possible because they're trying to not pay taxes. Number two is that they're not really saving outside of the business. Everything goes back in the business. Number three is, do they have a business that they can actually sell? And right now in 2018, to fully vest into Social Security for the year, it's only 5280 bucks. But I'm going to tell you right now, there is a ton of business owners that they paid themselves 820 bucks to grant. They're not vesting in, which messes them up in a few different ways. Number one, most people don't realize this, Social Security retirement, you have to have 10 years of work history minimum to vest in. The way that Social Security disability works is that you have to have earned income over the threshold of that year five out of the last 10 years.
Faye Sykes: So, I had a gentleman who manages properties, and it's all passed through income, and he wasn't paying himself any kind of income. Well, he ends up he's got a major disability kind of like a Parkinson's or MS where he's going to eventually not be able to work. I had to work with his CPA because he was not qualifying for disability. We had to go back three years, have them redo three years of tax returns. And going forward, we're having him pay himself like 50 grand a year.
Faye Sykes: So, business owners, I see, are really not doing themselves a favor. If you're terrible at saving, you don't have a business you can sell, pay yourself as much as possible because Social Security is a retirement disability and a life insurance program. So, it's much more. It really helps save families. And the other thing is, this is not an entitlement program. So, the politicians get up there. It's a little over 15% of your gross income pays into Social Security. So, this is not something that is a government what have you. We, the people, have pay in that little thing called FICA is what paid into that on an annual basis.
Corey Rieck: It seems that you're in a very ideal position to help business owners and C-suite executives because you have the Social Security expertise. You do have the planning and the wealth experience. And that does all fit together, it seems like. So, certainly, that that's one way I think that you set yourself apart. You were referred to me to be on the show by someone else who was on the show. And you're obviously very successful. What do you think separates you?
Faye Sykes: Well, for me, I came in this business grown up in Wisconsin, my parents never taught me anything about-
Corey Rieck: Hang on a second. You don't root for the Packers, do you?
Faye Sykes: Oh, my God. Sure do. Go Pack, go!
Corey Rieck: Moving right along.
Faye Sykes: But anyway-
Corey Rieck: Because I'm a Viking fan.
Faye Sykes: I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, but it's okay. But the reason I came in this industry is that I was a little upset with my parents because they never taught me anything about the financial industry, financial stuff. And then, it finally dawned on me, they can't teach you what they don't know. And guys sit around, and will talk about financial stuff, and women typically do not. And so, coming into the industry was like changing the conversation. It wasn't about making as much money as I could. I came in to help impact as many people as I could.
And I do volunteer work here in Atlanta. For the last three years, I have put on educational events for the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center, helping empower women to get empowered and move on. But there's the discussion around it. So, for me, it's like I'm a non ... so, my first career, I was a fashion designer. I'm a non-financial person. I'm an artist in a financial world. So, I design all my own educational pieces. It was a real struggle for me to learn it, but I've been doing it for so long now that I've got it. And I don't care who sits down with me. It could be a welder, or a hairdresser, or CEO. Every single person's like you can make me understand the basics because I relate it in something that the everyday person could.
So, for us, we do the holistic planning. I am a fiduciary as an independent advisor. And I'm really able to integrate retirement. And I've worked for insurance and investment firms. So, I understand both sides of that. Social Security, ERISA, I'm a big nerd around 401(k)s. So, I've just kind of over the years ... I am a CLTC. But for me, it's like I've always tried to strive to learn. My next thing that I'm going to start really digging into, my dad's a Vietnam vet, and just really understanding how the military benefits. So, that's sort of my next thing I'm going to tackle. But Social Security, it's so powerful and it's just really exciting to be able to help people.
Corey Rieck: What is the most satisfying thing about what you do?
Faye Sykes: It's the calls you get a year or two years later. And I had a grandfather that was referred to me, and he said, "Do I get divorced or do I put my grandkids in foster care?" And I'm on the phone, I'm like, "Okay, what's going on?" His daughter had passed away and the biological father to these children was a drug addict. So, completely out of the picture. He was 64, just married a 62-year-old. And he inherited a 5, a 7, and a 9-year-old grandkids. And for the mom, she didn't really have a work history. With three kids for the life insurance is 180% of her benefit, which was under $300 a month.
Faye Sykes: And so, he's said, "New wife said I didn't sign up and there was no money." So, there's provision in there for grandparents that we got them under his Social Security to the tune of over $44,000 a year. And it's gonna be over $550,000 with the benefits. They were also to hire a full time nanny for about 30 grand. The other $14,000 goes for Cheerios, and Snickers, and what have you. But originally, it was gonna be less than $4000 a year.
So, that guy called me a year and a half later and cried. He said, "You saved my family." This person said,"You were gonna help me." And he's like, "You did." And you get those kind of calls about retirement or different things, and it's just heartwarming.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. That's outstanding it. Do you find it advantageous to have the two companies, so you're able to appeal to people and help them with different aspects?
Faye Sykes: Yeah, absolutely because with other advisors, I have different CRM systems, everything is separated. There's two separate LLCs different staff. I just want to make sure because our goal, our long-term goal in the next five to seven years is to do about 100,000 plans per month. I have zero interest in trying to convert those clients over to my financial planning practice. So, we just want to make it extremely clear to other advisors and financial groups that we just want to help as a one-off on that one piece. We're not interested in trying to ... realistically, me and my four or five ... well, four people, we're looking at adding a fifth, we can't handle all of that. So, we just wanted to be really clear that we're just helping with that one piece, the Social Security planning.
Corey Rieck: And it certainly seems like that market needs the assistance that someone like yourself would bring to the table. What do you think is the most misunderstood item about financial planning or even Social Security?
Faye Sykes: Well, around Social Security, the, "Oh, it's not going to be around." 79% of Social Security is covered by current payroll tax. And so, the thing is it's going to be around. Hopefully, Congress will make some adjustments. Right now, they cap it at $128,000 a year. Well, the $128,400 for 2018. Well, somebody like Kobe Bryant who is gonna make $125 million over the next three years, if they either did an unlimited cap or said, "Hey, we're gonna move it to $500,000 or a million," it would put a ton of money back in the system. That 8% between your full retirement age increase annually between that and age 70. That's back from, I think, the '80s. They haven't switched stuff around. So, if they would reduce that down to a 2.5%-3%, it would have less money coming out of the system.
So, there's some little things that they can tweak, like upping how much your income is taxed and things like that that could really go in, but the other thing, I don't know if you guys remember a couple of years ago where a bunch of people in their 50s passed away, all these celebrity type folks. There's a lot of people that pay in their whole life, and then don't get any money out. And so, in any given year, they talk about 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, that's 3.2 million a year. And you think about that 55 to 65, that's 32 million people in any given year that need to start planning for Social Security. The big thing I'm seeing is that they need to change the laws a little bit and tweak it, but it should be really around. But a lot of people think, "I'm just gonna take it early just to get what I can," not realizing all the things that they miss out on.
Corey Rieck: Yes. Certainly having a conversation with someone like you, I think would be very advantageous for people a few years before they entertain taking Social Security. What resonates with you charity-wise outside of your work life?
Faye Sykes: I've been on seven nonprofit boards, and I'm a former Kiwanian past president and lieutenant governor. Right now, I'm on the board of directors for Tapout, which is tapping out human trafficking. The end of July, we are having a judo and jujitsu tournament, which will help raise money to help tap out ... Atlanta is a huge hotbed of human trafficking. Children as young as nine years old have to service up to a hundred guys a day. It's disgusting. But with the Super Bowl that's kind of come into town, they just are seeing how much more that's going to increase. But women get affected, the rape crisis center, I volunteer there. I do Meals on Wheels. So, to me, kind of giving back to the community and all that, it's just really important.
Corey Rieck: Well, you're certainly doing that, and we appreciate that. If you could give the younger version of Faye some advice, what would that be?
Faye Sykes: I was so scared about learning and finding out about financial stuff. I would tell women out there and men, get education early. I mean, I've got clients that sometimes come in at 19, 20, 21 years old, and they're going to be set up in life to make better decisions. So, I would say, find somebody, a mentor that can help you understand because the financial piece is so important. And if you make not the best decisions, it affects you for years after that.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, sound advice. If there was a young lady that wanted to follow in your footsteps, what would you tell her?
Faye Sykes: I would tell her work for one of the big firms or a couple of the big firms, get some experience, and then go independent as soon as you can. I wish I would have done it earlier. Unfortunately, in the bigger firms, I got mansplained a lot and wasn't treated the same as a lot of the guys. And having my own firm, I'm really able to make the impact, and I feel empowered, and I'm just extremely happy with what I'm doing.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, outstanding. You've been a great guest, Faye, I appreciate the-
Faye Sykes:Thank you.
Corey Rieck: ... perspective and the expertise. If the listenership wanted to get a hold of you, how would they do that? Maybe a phone number or email?
Faye Sykes: Sure. Well, my website is www.socialsecuritybp.com. And that's short for a benefit planers. My phone number is 404-354-1039. And my email is email@example.com. My other company just for the website is scarletoakfs.com. And thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Corey Rieck: You've been a tremendous success. Congrats on all your success. And keep up the good work. Thank you.
Faye Sykes: Thank you so much.
Corey Rieck: Well, next, we have Susan Knox. Susan, welcome.
Susan Knox: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Corey Rieck: We're glad to have you. You are a tenth generation Georgian and native Atlanta, which I almost never hear.
Susan Knox: Well, I'll tell you, I've had meetings before where I've had 25 people, and 12 of the 25 have been natives. So, we're definitely here. It's alive and well. But I will tell you that Atlanta is very transient, but there is still a good group of people that all grew up here, went to high school here. And I've tapped into them. And it's at a force to be reckoned with when you have people that have been here all of their lives and have these relationships.
Corey Rieck: I escaped Minnesota in April of '97. And when I moved here, you mentioned the word transient. It seemed like my experience was initially, there's a lot of people from other places, but I very infrequently run into people that were born and raised here and stayed here. And so, like I was saying, this is unique. Does this give you some advantages having been here your entire life?
Susan Knox: Absolutely. I mean, going back from growing up, having family, friends, being here all of my life, it absolutely has helped me build what I consider my golden Rolodex.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, you absolutely do have that. You went to school at the University of Georgia.
Susan Knox: I did.
Corey Rieck: And you were there when Herschel Walker was there.
Susan Knox:You did your homework.
Corey Rieck: I watched a special on him the other day on ESPN. Just a tremendous story. And I remember watching him as a 15-year-old, and I remember saying to my dad, "That's Superman," watching him. Anyway, tremendous athlete. You got to be happy with how UGA has reemerged in the football conversation collegiately.
Susan Knox: I'm always impressed with UGA from their donors' side, their alumni involvement. I mean, Georgia Bulldogs are synonymous with Atlanta, Georgia.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I think they're certainly a force to be reckoned with. And you've had a lot of business experience. Tell us about that.
Susan Knox: Well, doing what I do, which I am a business accelerator, I help generate revenue for companies by providing high level corporate introductions. So, whoever I meet, it's kind of like I have to get up to speed kind of a Harvard MBA, because whether they're a cyber security expert, or if they're talent acquisition, or they're raising money for a biometric new medical device, I mean, my world is all about meeting people and figuring out who they need to meet to grow their business. So, every conversation I have, every new person I meet, I'm having to constantly be on my toes of who, what, when, where, why, how? I've got a screen I'm qualifying. And then, kind of get their personality because just because you think two people need to meet, you kind of need to know there's gonna be some chemistry as well. So, yeah, I've had just a plethora of different businesses, and different industries, and different vertical markets. And it's just fascinating. Every day, I meet new people, and just my Rolodex continues to grow exponentially, and I just have an innate ability to meet someone and know who they need to meet immediately.
Corey Rieck: Well, you built this company, Corporate Connections. And some phrases and words that come to mind is business development expert. That would be right at the top of my list. Accelerator. And these are all things that never go out of style for any business. It seems to me that because of all the different businesses and the folks you meet, it must be very fascinating to be plugged into a new set of circumstances, learn that business, and then help that business. And then, you find the next one.
Susan Knox: That's exactly right. And it's so funny because different companies will retain me to help fill their pipeline with prospects and influencers. And I tell companies all the time, your prospect would be a direct client, and your influencers can be fabulous referral partners that can keep your phone ringing. So, if you can combine direct prospects and influencers in your sphere, you're going to never have to cold call again.
Corey Rieck: So, other phrases or lines that would come to mind that would describe you, strategic relationship builder. Would that be fair?
Susan Knox: Yes, yes.
Corey Rieck: I like the word accelerator, but you're a brand advisor.
Susan Knox: Absolutely.
Corey Rieck: I mean, is that an accurate for me to say that?
Susan Knox: It's very accurate. And it's so funny because when companies come to me and say, "Okay, Susan, I'm ready to hire you. I'm ready to go," well then, I have to start looking at all of their marketing material, and their website, and their business cards, and their email address if it's G-mail, I mean, if they're going to hire me to put them out to my important network, and put them, and showcase them, then they've got to be buttoned up, pressed, ready to go because it's not going to make me look good to represent someone who isn't just top notch best in class.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, it's an extension of you.
Susan Knox: That's the risk that I take when I take on a new client. And I've got lots of stories about people that I've known. But once you start putting them in face-to-face meetings with your top, say, sometimes I'll do a first round draft pick of 10, and I'll say, "Okay, if you're looking to meet high net worth individuals because you're a private wealth management firm, then I have to feel very confident that my client is going to show up, shake hands, look them in the eye, nice table manners." I mean, it goes to the basics. It's amazing to me how many people, I don't care how much money you have, how much Ivy League education you have, manners matter in today's world probably more than ever. And it just floors me with the lack of professionalism that so many people have that are "successful."
Corey Rieck: Did you ever watch the game show Love Connection?
Susan Knox: I don't believe I did.
Corey Rieck: With Chuck Woolery.
Susan Knox: Oh, probably.
Corey Rieck: Well, Chuck Woolery was a matchmaker. And he would put people together. I mean, don't you feel a little bit like that? I mean, you've got to make sure that there's gonna be a connection, gonna make sure that there's the chemistry? And obviously, it's an extension of your brand.
Susan Knox: That, again, I said before, it's the risk that I take. So, honestly, I say no more often than I say yes to clients because it is absolutely my reputation on the line. And that's all I've got. When you're in the business of only providing corporate introductions, there's not much room for mistakes. And so, I've had occasions where I've taken new clients, and I've kind of put them through a protocol. This is what I expect. This is the time frame you need to respond to emails. Let's talk about some table manners. I mean, I speak all the time on how to present yourself as professional executives, executive presence. I can just tell you, you got that five seconds, if not less, of that first impression. And so many people will say to me, "Well, Susan, do I wear a coat and tie?" because I deal with a lot of men. I'm starting to really represent a lot of women now, which is so much better because women have been our own worst enemies for many years, is all I can say, right, Faye?
Faye Sykes: Absolutely.
Susan Knox: So, I love dealing with professional women. And truthfully, on the manners and the etiquette, women far outshine the men.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I think, that's not inconsistent with my experience. I think women are more open to things. They're sharper. And I had a female client of mine said, "Hey, if you want something done, give it to a married mother of two to get it done." And that's been my experience that they're very effective at getting things done. Does it floor you that you have to explain things like that that seems so rudimentary, like table manners or wearing a coat and tie or?
Susan Knox: You have no idea how it affects me. I mean, I have wanted for many years to just do nothing but put on forums, or seminars, or really get people in the room and talk about the fundamental basics. And one time for about six months, I would go to Roswell United Methodist Church career networking, job networking that Jay Litton runs. And they'll get 450 to 500 people. And they will be men that have gotten let go from Delta Airlines to Cisco, the food system. I mean, big executives that are there networking to try to find a job. And we break out into different rooms.
And so, mine is it's not who you know, it's who knows you. And that's my tag line. And people will flock into the room. And I have like 20 minutes to give them as many bullet points as I can. Just rapid fire. And so, I start out talking about eye contact, hand shake, your elevator pitch, your business card exchange. I mean, we're talking basics. Like men, polish your shoes. Women, make sure your fingernails are nice, and clean, and not chipped. Just basic things. And the pen you use, like don't use your dry cleaners pin that's rainbow colored if you're gonna go, and sit down, and sign documents, or take notes. Take a portfolio with you. Don't put your business card, especially men, in your wallet where you're sitting on it, and they pull it out, and it's all tattered.
I mean, these are just basic, fundamental things. And I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me and said, "You know what? I know somewhere back in the day, I learned that," but writing handwritten thank you notes and these kinds of things on nice card stock, they just said, "I totally have forgotten this. And this is probably the most valuable set of information that I've gotten on my job search."
Corey Rieck: Well, I think, with your business and your contacts, you could absolutely do these workshops, and probably do extremely well of that with what you know.
Susan Knox: Well, I could pack the house with them. The problem is what I have been told is a lot of the millennials don't think they need it. And so, they're not going to come and sit in a workshop. And then, the people that-
Corey Rieck: Katy would-
Susan Knox: Well, she's got very nice manners, and she was raised right.
Katy: Thank you.
Susan Knox: And then, the older generation, the baby boomers, a lot of them don't think they need it. And a lot of them that are my clients are the ones that need it the most.
Corey Rieck: How did you decide to start Corporate Connections? To me, it's a fascinating business for reasons I mentioned earlier. You get to understand and there's a definite beginning, middle, and end, it seems, to each venture with a client. But how did you think to start this?
Susan Knox: It was totally by default. I was asked to join. Like Faye, I was in the wholesale jewelry business for 13 years, sold the company in '97, and I joined the Buckhead Business Association, immediately get asked to join the board of directors. And I said at a board meeting at the History Center, me and 15 gray men, and I said, "Let's do a Buckhead business expo." And they said, "What's that?" And I said, "Don't worry about it, I'll handle it." So, at the time, Marvin Cosgray was president of the BBA. He was president of the Buckhead Community Bank. And just a great guy.
Corey Rieck: He is a great guy, yes.
Susan Knox: He took me under his wing and he said, "I trust in you. You go for it." So, I went to Phipps Plaza, negotiated a lease. We got six-foot draped tables. And I combined promoting your business, promoting yourself and your brand with building the membership for the BBA. And we went down every nook and cranny at Phipps Plaza. We promoted the heck out of it. And I cannot tell you how many people said, "Susan, you're better at introducing, promoting, being an ambassador, a champion for me. Here's my business card. Here's my marketing material. I'll pay you a month retainer, and I'll pay you stiff on the back end for all the business you bring me."
And it started by default. But I had eight clients at $1000 a month back in the day. That was $8000 base plus commission on everything I brought them. And I said, "This is a business," and Corporate Connections was born. And it's morphed. And in the mid-2000s, I got asked to run an angel investor group. So, it catapulted me into another caliber of people because investors are not walking around. I'm not going to know that. So, I had to get to know them, have breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails. And so, I've really started building my network with a lot of high net worth individuals that we're looking for either real estate golf courses back in the day, medical devices have been popular. And I have just really worked it at building a strong network.
Corey Rieck: Well, that's a clear and obvious. How has the actual business changed? And how has technology influenced how you do things?
Susan Knox: Well, it's been a really interesting last couple of years because LinkedIn, a lot of people think LinkedIn is the be all end all for connecting with people that they don't know. And the truth is, I have connections where people will call me, or text me, or email me and say, "You're connected with so and so on LinkedIn," and I have no idea who that person is. So, I think LinkedIn has its place, but it certainly doesn't replace what I do, which is the eye to eye, which is what we're doing right now. And there's nothing like sitting down with someone, and talking with them, and looking into their eyes, and just getting the feel of who they are and how they communicate.
And I decided in December it was time for me to scale Corporate Connections because it's very labor intensive for me when I take a client on if I'm having to do every single corporate introduction. And then, I have to make sure that once the connection's made that they follow up because let's face it, if you're a private wealth manager and you meet somebody that's got $50 million, you're probably not going to have access to that for a long time. There is the trust relationship. So, I realized that I need to be able to have all of these great people that are my trusted advisors, key influencers, my subject matter experts on all different kinds of topics. I need all of them to get to know each other and put them into a "membership."
So, I have spent six months. I've got my new website ready to roll. It's going to be a membership website. People are going to be able to meet each other. They're gonna be able to do face to face meetings. They're gonna be able to have a back end on members only. They're going to be able to put there and promote their business outwardly facing. And so, I'm so old school and such a dinosaur when it comes to technology, but I've really realized I'm really going to be left behind with Corporate Connections business if I don't jump on the bandwagon and allow the people that I want to represent and to help them grow their business. They need access to each other, and there needs to be a technology component because it was so much just me one-on-one shaking hands.
Corey Rieck: Now, the website is very impressive. It seems like a natural next step to me. There's a lot of books and things being said written about, well, relationships don't mean as much as they used to. And I disagree with that. I think that relationships are important. When I meet somebody, I like to see the light go on. We're in the business of reading people. And you know pretty quickly if that person is going to connect with you if there's an opportunity to do business. So, I think that personal interaction is is still paramount. Would you agree with that?
Susan Knox: I absolutely agree with that. And I think, being willing to say yes. So many people today are so busy, and there's so much noise, and they don't really want to invest the time to sit down with someone unless they know for a fact that there's business that could be had right then and there. And some of the biggest deals I've ever put together among people are people that I had no idea you needed to know each other. But you know what I have found? When you tap into someone and find out their passion, like if it's a rape or trafficking of women, I have found that if I can really take a deep dive with somebody, and get to know them, and know what their passion is, that right there is an affinity with another person, even if they have nothing to do with each other in business because they've both got a love for the same thing.
Susan Knox: And so, I have just really found that personal relationships, people need to say yes. They need to show up. They need to be dressed, pressed and ready when they go to an event. They need to work the room. They need to be more interested in the other than interesting. People love to talk about themselves, and you need to be open for business. And I can't tell you how many people walk into a room. And I heard this phrase a long time ago, and I've never forgotten it, "Drive by networking." And you walk into your room, you work the perimeter of the room, and you leave, or you walk into the room, you have a stack of business cards, and you're the business card mongrel. And you walk up to a group of people, and you start dealing it like it's a card game. And I think there's nothing worse than that.
Susan Knox: So, I do think there is a way that you can present yourself. Always dress up rather than down if you're in question. People are attracted to successful looking people. It's just a fact. And so, you've got to always be on your A game no matter where you are. And one of the things I cannot stand talking about relationships, people that don't take business cards with them are making a huge mistake. And I think it really is a detriment to their professionalism if they say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't have any cards," or "I ran out." It's kind of not an excuse if you're in an event, and that's what you're there for. And then there's the power play to the people who don't give cards, and they get other people's cards, so they can follow up with only those that they want to.
Corey Rieck: You have so much experience and expertise with networking and building the right relationships. If one of the listenership wanted to go to a networking event tonight, what advice would you give that person?
Susan Knox: Well, number one, I would say do your homework on the organization that's hosting it, look at the profile of the people that will be attending it. If you can, get the guest list early. You can even ask the host or hostess sometimes or the executive director if they've got a list you could go through and do your research of who's there. You could pick four or five people that would be on your first round draft pick of meeting them. And if you know a little bit about them, you can walk up, you can shake their hand, and you can look them in the eye and say, "Mr. or Mrs." or "Jane or John, I'm Susan Knox. My company's Corporate Connections. I looked at your profile. I knew that you were going to be here. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'd love to know more about what you do and why you do what you do."
Corey Rieck: And that's truly impactful. I think, my experiences when I attend these networking events, everybody always has, I think, great intentions. But intentions don't always equal action and follow through. I think everybody says, "Hey, I'll help you." And then, when it comes time, when they find out they may be giving first as opposed to getting, their opinion changes. And I think one of the things that struck me about you is that you've always been interested in finding out about the other person, giving first maybe not with less expectation of getting something. And I think that plays a part in how you've gotten to where you are today.
Susan Knox: I think that's very true. And I'm a huge fan of helping people grow their companies, and it comes back exponentially. And if people will just get their mind and their heart, and think about this, and not be, "What's in it for me?" I think this whole pay it forward, I just think, I mean, I can tell you, it works in spades in my world. And quite frankly, my significant other and a lot of other people said, "Susan, you have chosen the hardest thing in the world to actually monetize," which is getting paid for corporate introductions in a city like Atlanta that people are hospitable, they want to open the door to new relationships, but I figured out a way to do it where I did monetize it, and it's just been a fantastic .... how many? I started in '99. So, I've been at this a long time.
Corey Rieck: Now, you've clearly had great success. We touched a little bit about on how technology has impacted Corporate Connections and sort of how you conduct business. What other factors have come out that has influenced how you do things?
Susan Knox: Well, again, I just believe that everybody's so busy today, and they're so focused on just immediate gratification. So, I think I've probably gone more to the old school way of picking up the phone and calling. Eric Seidel happens to be a friend, and someone I've helped represent in the past, and he's a colleague, and we talk frequently. But instead of just sending a text to Eric, "You need to meet Corey," I take the time to do a really kind of formal introduction. I take the time to cut and paste your LinkedIn profiles, your bios. I give an overview at the top of why you need to meet because I learned a long time ago, I knew the connection, and I could see it, and I would put two people together, and they'd go, "Why are we meeting?" And so I learned a very long time ago, I have to tell them what the connection is. And I just think, we're moving at lightning speed, technology is just changing so rapidly, and our human interaction is getting less, and less, and less. So, for me, I'm mid to approaching late 50s and-
Corey Rieck: Careful now.
Susan Knox: ... it's my personality to really be outgoing and to try to make people feel comfortable. And so, I think I've picked the perfect profession for me to do what I do. When I think in the day and age we're living in, I think a little old school hand-holding, and being very personal, and intentional about what I do stands out. And I think that's a differentiator for me, for sure.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, it clearly does. I've always been impressed with your willingness to give first the personal touches, the personal notes, taking the time to really make an effective introduction by telling each party, "Hey, here's what this person does, here's what that person does. Here's a little bit about them." So-
Susan Knox: It goes a long way in today's time.
Corey Rieck: It absolutely does. The personal notes. So, I mean, all of that, I think is sometimes forgotten or it's kicked to the curb for something that maybe could hopefully lead to immediate gratification. And there's something else that that you mentioned where folks, sometimes, are reluctant to take meetings if they think that there's not a deal imminent. And I think maybe technology could assist that, but, certainly, it doesn't seem to me that you've fallen prey to any of that.
Susan Knox: I haven't. In fact, I've really bucked the system more and tried to be more personal, more intentional. And I'm telling you, if you pick the phone up and call somebody, it's almost like today, they're like, "Wow! It's so nice to talk to you." And so, if I'm trying to fill seats for an event for a client that's doing a presentation, or if I'm hosting a corporate cocktail reception, if people that I want to be there are not responding, I don't bother them and keep sending them emails. I pick the phone up and say, "Mr. Smith, this is Susan Knox. And I really would like for you to come to this event. It will be highly effective for you. And can I put you on the guest list? And they say, yes.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I don't get that very many people tell you no.
Susan Knox: I don't get no a lot. Let's knock on wood.
Corey Rieck: You were invited on the show because you're, obviously, extremely successful and you've been favorably introduced by another person that's been on the show. What else sets Susan Knox apart? What we heard is that you’re very personal, you're very intentional, you're very focused, you have a lot of connections. But what else would set you apart?
Susan Knox: Well, I think I'm very competitive. I grew up-
Corey Rieck: I never would've picked up on that.
Susan Knox: I'm the youngest of three brothers. I'm very driven. I'm focused. I'm not very organized. People who know me well know that. That is definitely a weakness, but it's good to know your weaknesses, right? But really, I'm driven by my mission. And my mission is to help people grow their companies. And it's very fulfilling. And I've only met one other person in the whole country that does what I do. And she's in San Antonio, Texas. And we got introduced years ago. And it's so much fun to have someone who really does exactly what I do, and we collaborate and communicate all the time. Anyway, her name's Linda Elliot, and she's got a company called Elliott Connection, and she's in San Antonio. And it's just amazing that she and I, she's a little bit older than I am, and we started at basically the same time, and it's just really nice to really care about doing the right things, and helping people, and getting paid all at the same time.
Corey Rieck: None of that goes out of style. What do you think is the most challenging thing that presents itself to you and your business today?
Susan Knox: I think that people don't think that they need to pay to have someone help them get introduced. They'll pay for lead gen. They'll pay for contact CRM systems. They'll do the LinkedIn premium account or whatever. But it's a unique person or company that says, "Okay, I want a high level corporate matchmaker." That's our brand ambassador, and our team, or myself, the person as an executive. Okay. I'm clear in my calendar. We'll do a 90-day executive fast track. You fill my pipeline with the people I need to meet, and I'll be dressed, pressed and ready. I'm going to follow up. I'm going to meet these people. And I can just tell you, the people that have done that, my new website will have lots of testimonials that'll say it was very worth it.
Corey Rieck: What's the most satisfying thing about your business?
Susan Knox: When I see two people meet, and they actually sign contracts or do business together.
Corey Rieck: Outstanding. You've been a great guest on the show, Susan. If you could give the younger version of yourself any advice, looking back on what you've learned, what would you tell her?
Susan Knox: I would say find your passion and turn it into a business. You'll never work a day in your life.
Corey Rieck: You've clearly have done that. If there were a young lady that wanted to follow in your footsteps and take a similar track, what would you tell her?
Susan Knox: Meet as many people as you can early in life, be intentional about the meetings, follow up, be interested in them, keep a really good ... I call it a Rolodex even today, but keep up with the people that you meet. I think Ronald Reagan was the one who said that he became president probably because every meeting he ever had, he wrote a handwritten thank you note, whether it was for a brief second in the elevator or wherever. And there are just documents and people who follow up with people they meet with and they are so thought of favorably. So, if I was a young woman and wanting to be a Susan Knox, I would definitely say go to meetings, meet as many people as you can, follow up, be intentional, and really care about the other people. Don't make them have to ask you. You ask the questions, and they'll come back to you.
Corey Rieck: If the listenership wanted to get in touch with you or your phone or e-mail, how would they do that, Susan?
Susan Knox: Well, my phone number, since I'm old school, I'll give that first 770-757-8300. That's my cell. That's the best way to get me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my website is www.corporateconnections.us.
Corey Rieck: Susan, congratulations on all of your success. You've been a great guest. We appreciate you being on the show today. Faye, thanks again, Guys, another great show. Thank you very much.
Susan Knox: Thank you.
Katy Galli: Thank you. It's been a great episode of Tuesdays with Corey. And, of course, this show would not be possible without the support of The Long Term Care Planning Group. And you can visit tuesdayswithcorey.com to learn more about our show or thelongtermcareplanninggroup.com. We will see you guys all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.