It wasn’t music lessons or live concerts that ignited Jonny Lipford’s love for the modern Native flute. Instead, while watching TV as a child, he noticed a cartoon character playing a small, brown flute — and became obsessed with figuring out exactly what kind of instrument it was.
After some thorough research — no small feat pre-YouTube — Lipford discovered it was the South American pan flute. “I was able to identify it and thought, wow, that’s a cool sound. I’ve never heard it before. Doing the research on it was kind of my first exposure and entry point to the Native flute.”
So from the age of 13, Lipford immersed himself in the world of modern Native flutes, learning to play and traveling to music festivals and conventions. Even though it remained his passion into adulthood, he never thought he could turn it into a living, especially as financial responsibilities grew after starting a family. Instead, he sought out more traditional jobs while performing and teaching on the side. “Even though I knew the opportunity was there, for a long time the feeling of risk was too great to deal with, so I stayed in my comfort zone,” Lipford says.
of people surveyed say they plan to start a new business in the next 2 years.
want to turn their side hustle into a full-time job.
Starting a plan, finding room for a dream
It wasn’t until Lipford and his wife, Maria, started working with Northwestern Mutual financial advisor Clint Brady and his team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2018 that he could imagine the possibility of turning music into a full-time career. At the time, Lipford was working as the communications manager for the local office of a national nonprofit. “I thought financial advisors were for the bigwigs, as they say, not for the little guys like me,” Lipford says. But he had previously worked with associate financial representative Kennedy Gaffney, who was on Brady’s team, so he felt comfortable taking a meeting.
Initially, he and Maria were simply looking for help getting their finances in order. They were working toward goals like playing catchup with their retirement savings, paying down debt, and navigating the finances of a blended family, with four kids between them. “I think they just needed clarity around their goals and if they were moving in the right direction,” Brady says. As they talked further, however, he realized that Lipford had different aspirations. “It was very basic planning in the beginning but, over time, we talked about his dream of building up his flute business. We talked a ton about how to ramp that up and what it would take to do it full time.”
First was getting a foundation in place, which included insurance planning to help protect the family financially if anything happened to them; a plan to manage debt; building up an emergency fund; and retirement planning. As the conversations got deeper, they discussed different ways Lipford’s flute business could grow, and how much he might need to set aside for startup costs.
“I always thought it would be amazing if I could replace my income — which was not a lot being in the nonprofit world — with music,” Lipford says. “I started with, ‘How do I make $500 a month, just from music?’ Then when we got there, it was, ‘How do I make $500 a week with music?’ We just kept at it; as we achieved a goal, we thought about putting the next one in place.”
In 2019, at a regular financial check-in, Brady and Gaffney assessed the couple’s big picture. Between the financial protection they had in place, the progress they had made on their debt, their savings, and Maria’s income from her job as a medical coder, they believed Lipford was ready to be an entrepreneur full-time — even if Lipford himself was still unsure. “We saw a potential that he wasn’t able to fully realize yet,” Gaffney says. “It was as much about our relationship with him as it was about the financial planning.”
Taking the leap — and finding success
With encouragement from Maria and the numbers from Brady and Gaffney, Lipford finally decided to quit his day job. Admittedly, it was nerve-wracking for the first few months. “One of the biggest gifts Maria gave to me was saying, ‘Look, you need to chase this dream, because you’re going to regret it if you don’t,’” Lipford says. “I had to swallow my pride because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to contribute financially the way I wanted to at first.”
But devoting his full time to growing the business began to pay off. Lipford began building his online presence on YouTube, holding virtual concerts and creating instructional content for flute players. From the community he built there, he launched online courses, an email newsletter, and marketing partnerships with flute makers, and saw his income grow until he had far surpassed his previous nonprofit salary.
More importantly, being in charge of his own time has enabled him to have more quality time with family. “I’ve been able to adopt a schedule where I teach on certain days — and sometimes there are 12 hour days — but other days I can go chill in the backyard with my kids,” Lipford says. “Even my son has said to me, ‘Dad, I think it’s really cool that you have a job where you can spend time with me and still take care of our family.’ A lot of parents don’t get that choice.”
Now, nearly four years later, the business has grown so much that Maria recently left her full-time job to help him scale what is now the family business. Through all the growth, he’s remained in touch with his advisors to make adjustments to his plan as his life and financial situation changes. “We just had to help him see the vision for what was possible and get him to take the leap of faith,” Brady says. “We just said, ‘We believe in you, and we got your back on the financial part of it. Now just go and make it happen.’”
The testimonials presented may not be representative of the experience of other clients and are not a guarantee of future performance or success.
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