In 2008, Phillip Clark founded ENABLE in an attempt to give families hope. Phillip took his love for her sister and turned it into a special needs planning organization that now helps countless people who share the same limitations his family once did. In today’s episode, Phillip asks himself: “How do we continue to grow? How do we stay ahead of where we need to be but also…making sure that I am hearing them of what they really need?”
Phillip Clark [00:00:03] Enable Specialist Planning is an organization that strives to give hope to families, to families.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:12] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti and every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, career changers, experts and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:34] How can those of us with friends and family who have special needs empower them to live fulfilling, purposeful and impactful lives? Phillip Clark is the founder and president of a naval special needs planning where he and his team help families across the country create plans so that their child with special needs can live that happy, fulfilling life. Phillip, thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Phillip Clark [00:01:02] Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here with you.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:05] So Phillip, tell us in your words, what is ENABLE?
Phillip Clark [00:01:09] ENABLE: Specialist Planning is an organization that strives to give hope to families that their child can do amazing things with their life and find their own path to that leads to fulfillment and happiness and purpose. And there’s so many different areas of planning that have to be aligned with families that are much like my own to allow for that life of purpose to unfold. Because in the world that we live in, there’s so much negativity and there’s so much limited mindsets that are being ingrained in the families. And our focus is to change that mindset and allow families to be feel hopeful about the future.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:50] Nearly 54 million Americans cope with special needs, and yet their struggles are largely unheard and unseen in the bigger conversation in our society. How do you deal with that lack of awareness, Phillip, while running your business?
Phillip Clark [00:02:07] That’s a great question, I think that there’s many different layers to that answer and the first one, and I think the most important one, is helping families be advocates for their son or their daughter or their loved one, helping share with the world what their their child needs to enable to succeed in this life. And but I think the most important piece of that is giving our loved ones with special needs, the voice and the confidence to be able to also share with the world the amazing impact that they can have on a business, on a community, on the relationships within a family and friend group. And so helping individuals find their voice, find their confidence so that they can go out and share again. The amazing impact that they can have in the community is the most important piece. But also it also stems from the conversations that I have with complete strangers. I love talking with people. And so any time at an airport or waiting in line at Starbucks, if if a stranger is willing to have a conversation, I love that and I welcome that. And one of the questions that always comes up is what do you do? And when I share what I’m doing and the purpose and passion behind that, I get a lot of positive head nods. But then when I share with them that oftentimes the world doesn’t provide the opportunities and doesn’t provide the path to happy and fulfilling lives, they look at me in oftentimes disbelief. And so helping just even complete strangers understand and have a different outlook on the opportunities that really should be available for our loved ones is something that I strive to have every day.
Sam Jayanti [00:03:52] It’s so interesting that you talk about literally having that conversation every day, because I really believe it’s the only way to raise awareness around these issues is to engage, is to have those conversations with complete strangers because there’s so much learning that comes from them. And they do result in changing someone’s perspective on how they view these issues.
Phillip Clark [00:04:16] Yeah, absolutely, and it goes back to my main mission of what I’m trying to do, it’s what my business was born out of, just the passion that I have of helping create opportunities for my sister and our loved ones with special needs. And so every conversation I can have isn’t focused on business, but focus on why the business was created in the first place.
Sam Jayanti [00:04:37] I’m glad you mentioned your sister, because she is part of the reason that you started in April in twenty sixteen. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Phillip Clark [00:04:48] Yes, Sarah. Is the main reason why I started enable specialist planning. And as a young child, I’m her older big brother. But I always was so proud of her. I always wanted to be involved in what she was, what she was doing, whether that was Special Olympics or Best Buddies, you name it. I was there because I was such a proud big brother and I knew whatever I do with my career, I wanted to be involved in families that were much like my own and helping create other opportunities. And so I started this special needs planning journey in thousand eight. And I quickly I realized that special needs planning from a traditional focus was only focused on helping my parents answer the question of what happens when they’re no longer here. And I realized that that was such an important piece of the conversation and every family needed to have that plan, but I also looked at that from a proud Big Brother standpoint, and I said, no, I believe that planning should be focused on allowing my sister, allowing other families, loved ones to live a life that’s happy and fulfilling and purposeful today and every day in the future. Sarah’s plan should not start the day that my parents pass away. It should start today.
Sam Jayanti [00:06:03] One hundred percent, so when you say families like yours describe in a little more detail what some of the what some of the challenges, but also the amazing moments of having a family member, your sister in this case, who’s super who you’re super close to, it sounds like, but helping her live with her special needs and the implications for the family around her.
Phillip Clark [00:06:32] Yeah, there’s a lot of challenges that our family faced and there’s a lot of challenges that every other family who has a loved one especially faces. You know, there was countless doctors appointments and therapy sessions. Our life was very different growing up than a typical family. But we have a choice in life. We can look at life from a limited mindset or an abundance mindset. And I share this philosophy in this thought with families in every conversation that we have, no matter what planning aspect we’re talking about, we have a choice in life. How are we going to look at things? And our family chose to focus on the amazing qualities and amazing value that Sarah brought to our family. And Sarah is the rock to our family. We would not be the same family if it wasn’t for her. She brings so much joy and laughter and she has changed each of our lives for the better. And if we would have looked at that and looked at the challenges that our family faced because of Sarah having Down’s syndrome, I don’t think we would have had this amazing relationship in this amazing outlook that we do right now.
Sam Jayanti [00:07:40] Thanks for sharing that. Let’s take a quick break. So, Phillip, you decided early on to break away from the traditional lens through which people approach special needs planning, which was really focused on this sort of what happens when a special needs person no longer has parents caring for them and you’ve instead taken a very holistic approach. Talk a little bit about that decision and how that’s really underpinned all of your strategy with respect to ENABLE.
Phillip Clark [00:08:15] It really stemmed from understanding what my family needed out of conversations and they weren’t being had, but also stemmed from me listening to other families because I was in the industry of planning for quite a few years before I decided to start ENABLE. And I just heard over and over and over again the main challenges that families were facing were not being met and not being discussed. Families know that they needed a plan for what happens if, but families want to plan for so much more. And I was just being hit with compliance issues and guidelines of the industry saying you can’t talk about this. This is not what special needs planning is. Here’s what you need to focus on and call it stubborn. Call it a passion, call whatever you want to. But I just knew that the conversations needed to be much more broad and we needed to bring in to the conversations of what is a great life for your loved one look like. What does it look like next year? What does it look like 10 years from now, 20 years from now? And how do we create a plan to provide opportunities for impact and provide opportunities for your child to to feel purposeful with their life?
Sam Jayanti [00:09:27] Amazing, you were just referencing earlier looking at life through a mindset of limitation or a mindset of abundance, and you’ve clearly taken the latter approach in building your business and helping these families navigate the the needs of their special needs child. Tell us a little bit about what that shift has involved for some of these children, your sister and others. How did that sort of transform how they could live their lives with your family and the impact that they have had around them?
Phillip Clark [00:10:07] Great question, you know, with the two different mindsets, I talked about this earlier about how the world wants to talk about all the things that we cannot do that our loved ones cannot do. And for my own family story, when my sister was born, the first things that my parents heard from the doctors was, I’m sorry, your daughter has Down syndrome. And over the next few weeks and few months, various doctors and nurses and professionals, each one by one, gave my parents their limited expectations for Sarah’s life. And they had a whole running list of things that Sarah would never be able to do. And one of those things and the exact words from the doctors was most kids with Down’s syndrome usually don’t learn to read and you should expect the same. And at that moment, my parents had a choice, right? They could either take that and accept that as truth or they could say, you know, we don’t know much about Down’s syndrome, but we still believe that Sarah will have an amazing life. And if you fast forward to today, Sarah now works in a second grade classroom where one of her many duties in that classroom is tutoring the kids on their own reading abilities. One of the things the doctor said she would never be able to accomplish herself. She is now teaching others. And so if we focus on the limitations in life, that’s what we’re going to get. We’re going to get a limited outcome. But if we can focus on the abundant opportunities, we are going to be. Yes, faced with so many challenges, but with every challenge that we can overcome, we’re just getting closer and closer and closer to that great life.
Sam Jayanti [00:11:40] That’s an amazing story because it ultimately speaks to the sort of unacknowledged potential. Sarah, with help from your family and other people around her, achieved a life and is living a life that is so much more deeply fulfilling and having an impact on the lives of these young young kids. That’s really incredible.
Phillip Clark [00:12:06] Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s what every family wants to focus on. They know they have to have a conversation, but about what happens if. But they want so desperately to be able to share their voice of the amazing qualities and the amazing impact that they believe their child has.
Sam Jayanti [00:12:23] Totally. You operate on a for-profit model, but you also are engaged in an effort to alleviate the cost barriers in your business for families who don’t have an abundance of resources but need to operate within certain financial constraints. Tell us a little bit about how you strike that balance. What are some of the resources available to families who do face a financial constraint in helping their loved one have the access to the resources that they need?
Phillip Clark [00:12:56] So when we start our business, we we discussed going down the route of a nonprofit. But I didn’t have background in fundraising. I just saw a lot of challenges with with that model for us at our particular time. And so we went down the route of a for-profit business. But as I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t about money for me. This is about my passion and enabling families to create great lives for their loved ones. And so if a family is is so determined to create a plan for the loved one, but they can’t afford to create a plan, we will never turn a family away. And we have so many free, different free resources that we offer to families. And countless families have created their own custom plan for their child just by using our free guides. And so I will never turn a family away and I will never turn down a conversation with a family because they seemingly can’t afford to plan. And then we also tie into different organizations that also have free resources. We don’t want to recreate the wheel for things that are already out there that are amazing. There’s free legal services out there. The every single state has a ARC, the ARC and and they provide a lot of free legal and trust work if a family needs it. So really, we come from the place of we just want to sit on the same side of the family, listen to what challenges they’re facing and what goals they have, and help point them in the right direction. Sometimes that comes back to us. Other times we can find the resources in their communities to help them.
Sam Jayanti [00:14:36] You’ve made a really fascinating point there where the most successful businesses in our experience are those that are not focused on money or profits, but in really delivering value to their customers. And with that focus and in doing that, they end up being financially successful businesses because the mission is so clear and the value that they’re adding is so significant. If you have a for-profit model, this is this is a deeply emotional passion project for you. And at the same time, it is your business. You have a family to support and that needs to work, too. And you’ve struck this really amazing balance, it sounds like, which is very inspiring, I think, for people who want to pursue their passion, feel a deep need to help people who often can’t afford to pay for these services, but need to have access to them.
Phillip Clark [00:15:37] Sure, absolutely. I was told over and over and over again from people when I first started ENABLE that it would never succeed because I didn’t have a clear path to how we were going to get paid. That wasn’t my focus. It was fulfilling a need that I saw a desperate need that from the outside perspective might not have been obvious. But for me, living this life and being blessed to have Sarah in my life, I knew that it was such a need for families and the money was never a focus. I knew the money would come as long as we were solving the problems and having the conversations that families were desperately wanting. So the the finding the path to the money was never our our focus.
Sam Jayanti [00:16:19] That’s a great point. We’ll be right back. So let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the aspects of growing and scaling enable. What do you feel has been your most effective method of growing the business.
Phillip Clark [00:16:39] Serving families. Well, doing everything that we can do and meeting a family where they are and guiding them through a process that fits them and giving them just unmatched and unexpected sometimes experiences with our process. Many families have talked to special needs planners before, and they come in with an expectation of what it’s going to be like. And our entire team’s focus is just blowing those expectations of water. And if we can serve families well from this abundant mindset and help shift those expectations the families have about their own child’s future, you know, we’re just creating an amazing experience for these families. And word of mouth is our best way of of growing our business. If we can have a family who raves about us and loves the experience that they had, they will be forever fans and they will tell their friends and family and people that also need our services about what we do and about their experience. So that’s just focusing on serving our families to the best of our abilities is the best way that I have found that we can continue to grow.
Sam Jayanti [00:17:48] And word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool in our experience. Are there things that you do to raise awareness in a more general way around the issues that families and individuals with special needs face in an effort to sort of educate people about the options that are available to them?
Phillip Clark [00:18:07] Yeah, we also speak across the country. We have been gaining a lot of national recognition. So we speak at a lot of the national organizations and their conferences every single year. And I take that as an opportunity to just educate families. It’s I think a lot of times when you have a microphone in front of you, people often want to sell. And my approach is always I want to educate. I want to inspire. I want to create hope in the moment and create those emotions that make people move and make people want to take action to create a great life for their child. And again, it goes back to it might not be with me, and that’s OK. I just want to create that action and that hope in families. And that’s my focus with how I’m speaking and how I’m presenting across the country.
Sam Jayanti [00:19:00] Inform and educate, don’t sell.
Phillip Clark [00:19:01] Yea exactly.
Sam Jayanti [00:19:04] Great advice.
Phillip Clark [00:19:05] And it’s hard to do sometimes because when you have the attention, I think that’s our that’s what we’ve been taught as entrepreneurs always be selling, always be trying to find that next deal, but. That’s such a limited mindset, right, this limited mindset versus a mindset can can spread in all different areas and aspects of life, including business. There’s so many opportunities that we have as entrepreneurs. If we are always trying to find that next opportunity and not looking at how to just make a difference, you know, we’re missing so many opportunities, I think, by not approaching it that way.
Sam Jayanti [00:19:41] I totally agree. How do you allocate responsibilities between you and other members of your team, who are the people you really rely on in your business, especially as it’s scaled and grown that have really helped you accomplish the objectives for ENABLE?
Phillip Clark [00:20:02] That’s been a fun challenge that I have had over the past two years of how to scale, how to grow. When we started, it was my wife and I with this idea that things needed to be different and we could make that change happen. And as we’ve continued to grow, we’ve added members to our team. And I think what we have found success in is making sure the right people are in the right seat, serving families with how they are, how they are capable of doing. And I’ll give you an example of that. Our our lead financial adviser, his name is Tom. He is amazing at the analytical side of financial planning, of analyzing portfolios, of putting together customer plans. He is so great at that part. But the thing that makes him very successful and loved by our families is when we are taking these these personality tests and we make sure that each of the people on our team fits where they are serving. His empathy is through the chart. He has so much empathy to families. And so when they sit down with him two minutes into the conversation, they know without a doubt that they are talking with somebody who really, really, genuinely cares. And that’s the most important piece. He could be the best financial adviser in the world. But if they don’t think that he cares, they’re not going to listen to him. And so as we continue to grow, we really want to find people who fit the personality needs for our team and how they are serving families.
Sam Jayanti [00:21:36] I mean, if they’re not mission driven and not values driven, as you were just pointing out, it’s very hard to enable those people to succeed in your organization because with that comes just a very asynchronous approach to customers, to selling to growth, to even the rest of the team within the company.
Phillip Clark [00:21:57] Yeah, absolutely. And it creates a challenge because you have another layer of complexity that you’re trying to find to fill a seat. And I’ve heard this advice a lot, is just hire a bunch of people and cut the people who don’t make it. Then I don’t resonate with that approach. I want to be very methodical and very thoughtful in how we bring people on and make sure that they’re going to deliver that great client experience that we set out to do.
Sam Jayanti [00:22:25] Well, I think that advice is so poor on so many levels, right? Because it’s an investment of time and resources to bring people on and positioned them to succeed. And if you’re just bringing the wrong people on when they’re where there isn’t a fit from the very beginning, then you’re sort of setting yourself up for failure and then the customer impact of having people who don’t share the values and mission of your organization and the rest of your team, you know, presenting to customers would would only sort of dilute your mission and the impact that you have on the families that you work with.
Phillip Clark [00:22:59] Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a that’s something that’s been on our radar, is making sure that we continue to grow. Our level of service doesn’t waver and we only continue to get better and not dilute that as your in your words, dilute that level. Service is so important.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:19] Absolutely. What keeps you up at night right now?
Phillip Clark [00:23:24] I think it’s these topics right here, what we just talked about, how to efficiently and effectively grow our business is changing all the time. And how do I make sure that I’m three steps ahead of where we need to be? When we first started ENABLE and I had this dream of what I wanted to create, I oftentimes use the word we and and talking about our organization starting families across the country. And we didn’t have the infrastructure in place. We didn’t have a way to actually do it. But I always want to be three steps ahead. And so how do we grow? How do we stay relevant with how business is changing and but also how do we stay relevant for the needs that our families have and always being intentional and asking really good questions to our families to make sure that I truly understand what they are needing is very important. So there’s three different aspects. One is one of those is how do we continue to grow? How do we stay ahead of where we need to be, but also how to continue serving families well and making sure that I am hearing them of what they really need.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:33] Yeah, it’s such a such a good point, and in that vein, as the business has grown and scaled, how have you allocated your time between time with customers, time in front of the relevant audience to raise awareness versus time with your team and managing them and the sort of internal versus external lens?
Phillip Clark [00:24:58] To be honest with you, that was the hardest thing. This has been the hardest part of my journey, obviously building a business and scaling it and creating awareness across the country. If you’d have asked me two years ago what the hardest part was, that’s what it would be. But the hardest part for me has been stepping back and delegating responsibilities to others because I can’t do this alone. But I have spent this my entire career of doing it on my own and doing it myself. And so letting go and putting people in the right place and trusting them and giving them every opportunity to succeed is the thing that really has allowed our growth. But it’s been really one of the most challenging things that I have experienced in my career.
Sam Jayanti [00:25:41] It’s a very hard balance to strike because I think the same ability to do things yourself and to really drive the direction of your organization is what’s necessary and a requirement for successful entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business. And then, as you said, as the business is growing and scaling, you’ve got to force yourself to sort of step away, but still retain the ability to do those same things as the need arises for you to step in. And that’s an incredibly hard balance to strike. I mean, my mother used to say this to us when we were children, and it’s sort of household wisdom in some ways, which is, you know, you should always have the ability to clean your house whether or not you have someone coming in to clean it for you. And and that is true in entrepreneurship as well.
Phillip Clark [00:26:35] Yeah, absolutely. I like that advice, but that’s that’s absolutely true. And my focus for this year is to continue being a better leader and allowing my team to serve our families to the best of our ability. And that’s one thing I’m really. Putting a lot of effort into myself is just that personal growth of transforming into an even better leader, because that’s what our team needs
Sam Jayanti [00:26:57] Totally make sense. Last question. Where do you see yourself and the business three years from now?
Phillip Clark [00:27:04] You know, I want to we’ve got our first client that was international. We got that here in in January. So we are now international.
Sam Jayanti [00:27:15] Congratulations.
Phillip Clark [00:27:15] Thank you. That was a something that was very unexpected, but it was amazing to know that we can serve families no matter where they are in the globe, which was crazy. But, you know, I want to continue serving families very well and helping serve this need and create hope in families to the best of our ability. And if that means serving three to five hundred families in a year and building the team around us to be able to do that, that’s that’s wonderful. But I also anticipate that as I am asking great questions and listening to the needs of our families, I also feel like we will transform into other ways of serving families. And the example of that is there’s such a need right now for long term affordable housing for individuals and special needs after they move out of their parents house and giving them a sense of independence and self-worth and everything that goes into. A typical individual’s life of being independent, being on their own, our loved ones strive for that, too, and they desire to be on their own and live as independently as possible. And that’s a that’s a need that every single family that we serve, they express that need and that desire to create those opportunities. And I don’t know what the right answer to that is, but I just am hearing a lot of different concerns within our families and I don’t see a lot of answers out there. And so that is just one small example of how could we evolve into a housing organization where we’re creating opportunities and bringing investors to the table to be able to create these communities. That’s a possibility. But my focus is I just want to serve families to the best of our abilities and always continue listening.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:04] I think that’s great, but, you know, you’re also always listening, as you said, for new needs or new opportunities and affordable housing is the problem of our generation, really, both in the United States but also increasingly in other urban areas around the world.
Phillip Clark [00:29:23] Absolutely.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:25] Here’s something else you should know, the nearly seven million disabled students in the U.S. make up nearly 14 percent of national public school enrollment, thanks to Pew Research for the data used in today’s episode. Phillip, we love your story because you took your love for your sister and turned it into something that now is helping countless people who have had the same struggles that you and your family have faced. Thanks so much for joining us on Ideamix radio today.
Phillip Clark [00:29:54] Thank you so much.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:56] Thanks for listening today.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:57] You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you. So e-mail us at info at the Ideamix radio. Com or Instagram DMAs. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Milewski with music by the awesome Nashville-based singer-songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at DougAllenMusic.com.
Get new ideamix content delivered straight to your inbox.