By Byron Ballard
Women are often thrown into situations where they must suddenly take control of their financial lives – and we are ready to provide the gentle support and guidance they need at this sensitive time in their lives.
In spite of the good work—and better intentions—of decades of feminism, there is still a set of cultural mythologies that has built up around women and money. Maybe those tapes play in your head as you sit down to balance your checkbook. Or perhaps you are one of the people who click onto your online banking site with a sense of dread and foreboding.
“Think of money as a tool,” says Dawn Starks, founder and CEO of Starks Financial Group in Asheville. Dawn is a Certified Financial Planner who works with retirees and pre-retirees throughout Western North Carolina and across the US.
If you follow that simple reasoning to its logical conclusion, you will discover that a tool is part of a skill-set to be learned and practiced. Once a woman steps free of the fear and doubt perpetuated by the old tapes of popular media and the dominant culture, she can take control of an important aspect of her life in a way that is both satisfying and empowering.
Dawn is a bright and energetic visionary who began her own firm in 1999. She encountered sexism within the industry, including an older man who called her “honey” and advised her to slow down and not rush into going out on her own. “All you have to do is tell me I can’t do something to really motivate me.” The first home for the business was an old house on Clayton Street and Dawn’s face grows serious as she talks about those early years. “The stock market was terrible. It was a rough beginning for the firm.”
Dawn’s down-to-earth practicality is one of the great assets of her company. Instead of shoehorning clients into a pre-fabricated template, Dawn and her team pride themselves on getting to know each client individually and creating a truly individual plan for each one. They also have a focus on socially-responsible investing for those clients who want their investments to reflect their environmental and sustainability ethics. The company’s services are offered through Raymond James Financial Services and Dawn was named a member of the Raymond James Leaders Council In 2011, where she remains active.*
The firm’s original five-year plan saw the all-woman firm aggressively marketing the business while working together to offer excellent advice and strong financial planning for their clients. (For years, SFG continued to be an all-woman firm but welcomed a male financial planner to the office in 2012.) It was a calculated strategy for a young firm in tricky times and it paid off in client loyalty and continued growth.
Those years of building the firm lasted until 2004 when Dawn and company scaled back their advertising budget and, working with its existing client base and referrals, Starks Financial Group set its sights on paying off their corporate debt. Working with another market downturn in 2008, it actually took them six years to accomplish that goal and Dawn’s eyes sparkle as she announces that, “as of 2010, Starks Financial Group was a debt-free company.”
Not content to sit in an office or attend conferences, Dawn hosted a call-in financial radio show called “Money Matters” for WWNC Radio and was the featured financial professional for our local ABC affiliate WLOS TV. She served as the investment advisor for the Biltmore Company for several years and was adjunct faculty at Mars Hill University and Western Carolina University (where she helped develop the Financial Planning Department).
In addition to the professional challenges of a growing business, Dawn’s personal time is filled with home-schooling her daughter, being moral support for her husband, Greg, as he builds their new house and her own training as a triathlete. She is a woman who sets her goal and sticks to it, something she learned as a girl with a musical career in mind.
In fact, she has a Bachelor of Music degree from Chapel Hill and a MBA from Western Carolina University. She plays the piano in her downtime and also loves a bit of gardening, knitting and other fiber arts, and is an avid reader—we both share a passion for the writing of Phil Rickman.
She has served on the board of directors of OnTrack Financial Education and Counseling of Western North Carolina (formerly Consumer Credit Counseling Services) for several years and currently serves as Past President. One of the many advantages of a debt-free company is the ability to turn her attention to one of the areas that interest this smart and savvy business leader—creating a whole new division of the company that focuses on money management services for clients with limited means. SFG has done pro-bono and low-cost work from the beginning. Her colleague Celeste Collins, who serves as the Executive Director for OnTrack WNC has this to say about working with Dawn, “For more than a decade, OnTrack WNC has benefited from Dawn’s involvement as Board Member, Board President, generous sponsor, visionary and guest teacher in our Women’s Financial Empowerment Center. I’m routinely amazed by her ability to take complex financial topics and convey them in an understandable way. Her keen mind and strategic vision have been vital to our agency’s evolution. Dawn not only talks about her passion for empowering people, especially women, through financial knowledge, she invests her time, talents and money in making a difference!”
This enlarged program will be more formalized and will be marketed separately from the firm’s primary work. “I have always believed that everyone needs good financial planning advice,” she explained. Plans for the new venture include utilizing volunteers and interns to help with the services—a way to give new graduates an opportunity to get real experience in the field.
We can expect to hear more about it early in the new year. The business is moving out of its second home—a cozy house near Starbucks off Charlotte Street—and into larger digs not too far away. One of the historic Montford Avenue homes is destined to be the new offices for Starks Financial Group, a move that gives them more elbowroom and space to expand new programs and other projects for this dynamic firm, and its energetic leader, Dawn Starks. There’s no doubt that she’ll do what she’s set her mind to and she’ll do it with energy, focus and great style.
*Membership is based mainly on assets under management, education, credentials and fiscal year production. Re-qualification is required annually.
Visit www.starksfinancial.com, call 828-285-8777, or write to 56 Clayton Street for more information.
Starks Financial Group is an independent registered investment advisor. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.
H. Byron Ballard, BA, MFA, is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has served as a featured speaker and teacher at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, Glastonbury Goddess Conference and other gatherings.
Her writings have appeared in print and electronic media. Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press). She blogs as “Asheville’s Village Witch” (myvillagewitch.wordpress.com) and as The Village Witch for Witches and Pagans Magazine (witchesandpagans.com/The-Village-Witch)
Her pamphlet “Back to the Garden: a Handbook for New Pagans“ has been widely distributed and her first book “Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo” (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on “Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet”. Contact her at www.myvillagewitch.com, email@example.com