Maddie Brown is an entrepreneur and CPA helping business owners manage and leverage money to build their dream businesses and lives. We talk about money – how to attract it, keep track of it, hold on to it, grow it and leverage it for your business success. We also demystify a few things, focus on common mistakes entrepreneurs and business owners make, and how to grow the value of your business and live a life of financial freedom.
Melinda Wittstock: Maddie welcome to Wings.
Maddie Brown: Thank you, I am glad to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m excited to have you on because there are so many women in this country and men who are thinking about making that entrepreneurial leap but taking their good time to do so. I know you were working in the government for a long time before you took the leap, what was it that made you really go for it on that particular day at that particular time?
Maddie Brown: Well, you know Melinda, I worked for the government for 20 years and I spend a good solid seven of those saying that as soon as I was eligible I was going to take early retirement and I was going to have my own business. And as a CPA I’ve always had a vision of what a CPA firm is supposed to be doing. And I wanted to do it my way. And I didn’t think that I could do it because I had a nice state job that paid me a very good salary and had very good benefits. And I spent a long time saying, “I’m stuck. I’m stuck. I can’t do it.”
: And then I went to a Jack Canfield one day seminar in 1999 and at that seminar I realized a horrible, horrible thing. I realized that I didn’t even want to tell people what I did for a living because it was so awful. I was an investigative auditor. I did criminal prosecutions helping setup cases for fraud and evasion and I didn’t want to tell anybody what I did cause it was so wretched. And I thought, “You’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got to do something different.”
And it took me even then, even from then it took me about a year and a half before I got the nerve up an I bought an existing CPA practice. And it was a small practice in a small town that was close to me. And I did what I have wanted to do my entire life. And after the first tax season I set about creating a client base of the people that I loved to work with, which is small business coaches, creative people, people who are doing good things in the world. I want to see them be more successful so that they can do more of the good things that they do, and that is how I get inspired is to see them grow and develop and know that I had some small part in that.
Melinda Wittstock: And so it’s interesting that you chose, sorry pickup there. It’s interesting that you chose to buy an existing firm rather than start one from scratch on your own, what was the basis of that decision?
Maddie Brown: Well the nice thing about buying an existing firm was that you started off in a healthy profitable place, okay. The business was profitable, the business was doing well enough and it gives you a baseline so that you can shift and mold it to what you want it to be. But that it provided a security, a little bit of cash flow that I didn’t have to generate and create. And that was easier for me than just going cold turkey and saying, “Here I go.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yes absolutely.
Maddie Brown: It also took me a fair amount of time to really become a very proficient salesperson because as my 20 years in government went that wasn’t exactly marketing and sales training. And so, the challenge was learning to sell the services and sell myself so that I could get the new clients that I really needed and wanted.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. You know sales is something that so many female entrepreneurs struggle with. I think we grow up with this idea of the used car salesman you know, that sales is somehow icky.
Maddie Brown: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And what’s interesting about that though is that when you have something that is genuinely really helping other people, as you talk with such deserved pride about all the businesses that you’re advancing, right? With your knowledge, that’s such a valuable service and yet it would be criminal not to be selling your services. You know what I mean?
Maddie Brown: Right. Sales is something that you do for someone not something you do to someone.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). This is so important, say that again. It’s for someone not to someone.
Maddie Brown: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: I think so many people just mistake that.
Maddie Brown: Yeah, you want them to stay focused on how you can make their lives better. And if you know you can make their lives better then I think you have a responsibility to do that.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so what are some of the surprises? So you buy this firm, okay, and you’re getting your sales acumen, exercising that sales muscle and no doubt growing a lot personally in the challenge, because we all do when we have to step into areas that are not our comfort zones.
Maddie Brown: Absolutely. Oh yes.
Melinda Wittstock: What were some of the challenges or things that were just completely surprising to you I guess?
Maddie Brown: They’re different things because strange things were surprises to me. I realized one day, I was putting up pictures in my office and then I realized, and it came as a surprise to me that I got to chose what the decoration was in the entire office, not just my little cubicle but I got to pick what was on everything. I bought a beautiful mirror that said, live, love and laugh. And I transitioned with two employees and one of the employees kind of looked at it and she stood there for a minute and she says, “You know, it’s really nice, it’s really pretty I’m just not sure it’s appropriate for an accounting office.”
Maddie Brown: And I said, “It is for this one.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right. That’s it. So you’re getting this sense of, yeah so really power but in a good way. It’s more like empowerment perhaps I think is a better word for this, right? Because you’re sort of stepping into your true talent, your true north, what you really want to be doing and then you’re discovering, “Wow, gosh I can do that. Oh, I can do that.”
Maddie Brown: Yeah. And the other thing that is really quite precious to me as I’ve learned over the last eight years is my relationships with A, my employees and B, my clients. And I’m making a contribution to the community through the service to the clients and through helping my employees grow and develop as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. This is so, so important. Let’s transition a little bit in terms of what the challenges many of your clients have. You’re working with folks who are running small business and solo preneurs and coaches, practitioners, and entrepreneurs, what are the main mistakes that they’re making when they hire you? I want to go through some of the biggest mistakes and then what some of the solutions are.
Maddie Brown: Well, one of the biggest mistakes falls back to waiting too long. I have a lot of people who say, “I’m not ready for an accountant.” And the truth is that you need to have a good plan and cashflow projection before you ever start the business, because it’s your money that you’re investing, it’s your security that you’re investing. And you want to make sure that you have a security that you’re investing, and you want to make sure that you have a sustainable, viable business plan before you start. I think that that planning upfront is really, really critical.
A lot of people have a job that they want to leave, and they have a salary that they need to replace, and they need to have a vision of how they’re going to replace that income so that they can continue their lives in the fashion that they want to live. I always start at the bottom, and say, “I want to make $50,000 net, and then add back the expenses.” Then, add back, and say, “This is what I need to generate in order to have the life I want.” The best information you can get is if that’s not viable, you save your money, okay?
The first thing is it’s never too soon to get a financial advisor onboard, because you need to get that information in your head and clear. The clearer you are, the faster you can get profitable. The second thing that I think is really critical is to develop a system for record-keeping. Most people are so fearful of the IRS that they sabotage themselves when it comes to having the records that they need to have in order to sustain themselves under an audit in an IRS situation. If you have a really great system that you put in place on Day One, then you don’t develop any bad habits. You always have the information you need to know what your tax liability is going to be, and how you’re going to pay it.
Records are really, really fundamental to being in business. If you don’t know what your profit is for last month, you don’t have the information you need to make decisions about how to do business this month.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so true. I mean, it comes down to the kind of … know where you’re going, and know your numbers. It’s that kind of inspiration or the vision of where your ultimate destination is, your what and your why, but then filling in the numbers in between. I mean, because without those lining up, the best intentions in the world can never really come to fruition.
Maddie Brown: No. That is so true. I hear a lot of people say that I want to make $100,000. Okay. Well, $100,000 is $8,300 a month, give or take a few pennies. If you need to make $8,300 a month and you’ve got something that you’re selling for $83, you need to sell how many units in order to make the $8,300? Is that viable? Is that doable? Can you sustain that for a year at a time?
You need that information before you ever set foot into business.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. You do, and yet, how many people think about it that way?
Maddie Brown: They don’t.
Melinda Wittstock: They just don’t, right? They just don’t, because you’re trying to figure out … okay. What would you like to, say, price something for? Now, pricing is a really interesting one for women, because all too often, if we undervalue ourselves, as individuals, just even on some subconscious level, then we’re very likely to undervalue the price of the goods or the services we’re selling, and in turn, or … well, as well as that, we can sometimes over-deliver, right, on those?
Maddie Brown: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: It ends up not being a scalable business, or we’re underpriced, so there’s no way. With the best will in the world, we will burn out long before we can ever reach anything approaching scale, or the magical number that you want.
Maddie Brown: That’s why you’ve got to plan. I think the saddest story that I’ve ever seen was a teacher that had a pension that she retired at the end of her teaching career, and she had a nice set-aside pension. It wasn’t millions of dollars, but it was a sizeable amount of money.
She had the dream that she wanted to open a travel agency. She had no experience with running a travel agency, but she found herself a building and she bought herself furniture and she proceeded to set this all up, and spend money. A year later, her pension was gone. She was not profitable, and she was without her pension.
Had she taken the time and the effort to plan that out, the odds that she would have been successful escalate dramatically. The sad part is it was a year later. It was too late to do anything about any of it. The money was gone. It’s really sad, because it was her money. It wasn’t money that she borrowed. It wasn’t money that she charged on a credit card. It was her hard-earned cash for years of service.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s just so upsetting to hear that, and to know, though, that so many people end up-
Maddie Brown: It can be prevented.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Yes. Let’s start at the beginning. You’re starting your own business, or, say, you have a side hustle, or you’re about to take the leap, maybe. You’re starting from scratch. Let’s assume you’re starting from scratch. What would be the first things that you would tell a budding entrepreneur to do on the financial side. We’ve talked a little bit about budgeting, but what do you do if you have no real experience in budgeting?
Maddie Brown: Well, you take a wild stab at it and guess, which is scary, but you make as educated decision as you possibly can. For example, you know you’re going to have internet access, and that’s going to cost you $60 bucks a month, okay? You know you’re going to have a cell phone. You know you’re going to … a lot of our clients work from home, and so they have a home office. The things that are deductible are really quite predictable, if you are familiar with the business that you’re going into. You can fabricate a list of what you think your expenses are going to be, and it’s going to be a guess, and it’s going to change, sometimes on a daily basis. Okay?
Planning is a living, breathing document. It is not static. It doesn’t stay in one place. You’ve got to be flexible and fluid so that you can shift when you need to shift, in order to be profitable.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s right. You get a good sense of your cost. You get a good sense of what your number is, what you need to do to be able to make that number. That’s all pretty clear. Then, now, you’re up and running and you’ve got this scary thing called “cashflow.” Talk to me a little bit about that, because the worst crime any entrepreneur can commit is running out of money, and it’s easy to happen.
Maddie Brown: It is very easy to happen, and you can’t let it sneak up on you, okay? What I think is true is if you know that you want to bring in $8,000 a month, then you need to calculate how you’re going to get that, how many clients it is. You can break that down by month, by week, by day. Every day, I need to do X number of sales. Every day, I need to work with this many clients. When you hae a daily goal, that dictates how you spend your time and how you spend your day.
Generally, there’s only two things that an entrepreneur should be doing in their business. One of those is marketing, and the other is delivering services. If you are doing those two things, you should have other people on your team that you can share the burden with so that you don’t carry everything. I don’t recommend that anyone do their own bookkeeping. I don’t do my own bookkeeping. I have someone that does it, and I have the reports that I need, but it’s not something that I spend my own time on, because my time is important to manage the business and market the business. If I don’t do that, the business dies.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. This is so true. You’ve always got to be looking, really. When you’re prioritizing all the million things you could do, what is the one that is going to keep you in business? That’s obviously revenue, like sales and marketing, and yet, I think, so many entrepreneurs … I know this to be true. I’ve been guilty of this in my past, right … is planning for that, rather than doing it. Right?
No, seriously. That is such a big deal. We all do that, because you get this sort of Excel spreadsheet looking perfect, and the marketing plans, and how you’re going to do it, and your roadmap, but are you [crosstalk 00:28:26-
Maddie Brown: The bottom line is …
Melinda Wittstock: … but are you making the calls?
Maddie Brown: You’ve got to pick up the phone.
Melinda Wittstock: You’ve got to pick up the phone.
Maddie Brown: You’ve got to pick up the phone. That is the only … There us no problem that a sale won’t cure. If you are having cashflow, then you need to really look hard at how much you are actually doing in the area of revenue generating activity. The first thing you should do every morning is what’s going to bring the cash in the fastest. The second thing is what’s going to bring the cash in tomorrow. The third thing is what’s going to bring the cash in next week.
I hear a lot of people say, “Well, I’ve got to get my website done.” Websites never sold anything. You are the product of your business, and you have to get out, pick up the phone, talk to people, tell people what you are doing. Most people want to help you. They want to support you and the want to see you do well. A lot of times people are worried about somebody thinking that they’re bothering them, and then we get back to that whole equation that sales is something that you do for someone. You’re helping them. You’re benefiting them.
You’ve really got to keep that in the forefront of your mind, because you do come across … if you’re feeling panicked and desperate, it’s going to come across in your conversations with your potential clients. You’ve got to always maintain that focus that this is something that you’re doing for the person that you’re talking to. They’re going to get some wonderful benefit from having this business decision.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, gosh. This is so, so true. I mean, I think with all of these things, you have to look deep inside your soul, or in your beliefs about money, or about yourself, because when we procrastinate like that, underneath it all it’s fear. It could be fear of failure. Sometimes it’s fear of success. You think, “Oh, wow. If I make all this money, all these relatives are going to come out of the woodwork and demand it from me, or something.”
It could be anything, but all these money beliefs are … we learn so early from our parents. All these, and society, and maybe even a TV show, and all this sort of stuff goes into our minds from zero to eight, or whatever. It drives us.
When you’re working with all these entrepreneurs, do you find that you have to really change up their attitude a lot about money?
Maddie Brown: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Do you end up doing kind of inner work with them?
Maddie Brown: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, it’s almost like you’re an accountant that’s a psychologist?
Maddie Brown: I do a lot of therapy, okay? I do a lot of therapy, and I have a lot of people cry. I have a lot of people that are ashamed, and they get behind. They can’t get themselves out of the hole that they’ve dug for themselves. It’s embarrassing, and they’re ashamed, and they cry. You take a look at it, and then you do what you need to do to fix it.
There’s an adage that I think is really true. “Businesses don’t fail. They just run out of ideas.” Many times, business owners quit. They make a choice to quit, and that’s a decision on their part. They could easily decide to make it work whatever the cost. You’ve really got to go into a small business with a lot of commitment of how you’re going to make it work, because it’s going to be a challenge … always challenge. Challenge is good, but it’s always going to be a challenge.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so interesting. Money is one of those things that causes people all sorts of grief.
Maddie Brown: Yes. Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s funny how much power that we give it over our lives, when, in fact, it’s just a tool. I have a question for you about that. How many of your clients instinctively understand leverage, or is that something that you really have to teach?
Maddie Brown: That’s something that you really have to teach.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, because money … it’s so interesting, when people get into debt. I like to break this down, because you can get into debt to create something of value that’s an asset, or you can get into debt going on vacation. That’s like spending some money that you will never get back. You might’ve had a good time-
Melinda Wittstock: [inaudible 00:34:00 spend some money that you will never get back. You may have had a good time, but it’s not an asset.
Maddie Brown: No.
Melinda Wittstock: So how do you encourage your clients or coach them in terms of where they should be investing money in their businesses and where they should be saving money, i.e. not spending?
Maddie Brown: Well, I have a very basic decision making course that I follow. The first step is is it something that you want to do, be, or have? You’ve got to answer that really honestly with yourself, if it is something that you want or something that you just think you should want. Should doesn’t cut it. It has to be something that you want to do, be, or have.
The second thing is does whatever your buying take you closer to that goal or further away from that goal? If it moves you closer to the goal, you should spend the money and you should commit action wise to make it be its fullest potential.
If the real answer is no, you don’t want it then that’s an easy decision. People don’t always honestly answer that question. I want you to look first, is it something you want to be, do, or have? Does it take you closer to your goals and are you willing to commit the action required to achieve the goal?
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Sometimes people think they are but they don’t actually know what is involved in being an entrepreneur. What they are actually taking on board.
Maddie Brown: Yes, it’s always unexpected.
Melinda Wittstock: Really with this podcast, I take it upon myself to make it pretty clear what it involves. I particularly could not live life any other way. That’s just me. I’m too much of an idea person. I’m all about leverage. I love the freedom and this concept of financial freedom I want to talk to you a little bit about in a moment. I just know myself. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial gene I guess. I can’t not do it. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve taken my lumps along the way. It’s hard. It’s hard. At any given time there’s more that you don’t know than you do, even if you get really experienced at it. I’m a serial entrepreneur on company four, but there’s still stuff I don’t know. Moreover, there’s stuff I can’t control. The only thing I can control is how I react to things. It’s hard to know about timing. It’s hard to know about what a competitor is going to do. It’s hard to know about all kinds of things can happen.
Maddie Brown: Every decision we make, we make with the best results in mind that we can envision at that point in our life with our skills and talents. You have to remember that it’s better to make a decision and to do it and to learn from it than it is to do nothing. I did nothing for 20 years in the government. Big mistake. I could have had my ideal life years before I did if I had simply made a decision.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, right, right! Isn’t that so interesting that the time that we delay. There’s been so many times where you look back and you think “Oh, gosh. I knew that I was going to do that, but wait a minute, I waited to long. Oh, man, the opportunity is gone.” That’s a horrible feeling to have. It really does make sense just to go for it.
Maddie Brown: Well, I always say that done is better than perfect.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s true. This is interesting about perfect. Do you suffer from this? This perfectionism gene? I think we all have it to some degree. It’s difficult to recover from. Maybe it’s just fear dressed up pretty. I see so many female entrepreneurs in particular with this perfectionism.
Maddie Brown: Yeah. You’ve got to keep moving forward. Not moving forward is as much of a decision as taking the next step. It takes courage to step out of where you are in your nice comfortable little circle. It takes courage to step out of that and to do the next thing. I have people when I was talking about leaving my government job, they were like, “Well, what are you going to do if it doesn’t work out?” Well, I’m going to get a job. I got a job now. I’ll get another one.
It could have gone all different ways. The reality is that we’ve tripled the size of the business. We now have four full time employees. I get to spend my days talking to people that I love to talk to.
Melinda Wittstock: So many of us got acculturated to think, “Oh, we’ve got to sock it all away into a 401k and just put it all away.” Defer, defer, defer, defer. Then we are going to have this lump of money to use when we are older.
Not that there’s anything wrong with savings, but as an entrepreneur, there are ways to go about cash flowing that and creating value and creating your retirement in a way that’s going to be more tax advantageous to yourself. How do you advise entrepreneurs on some of those issues?
Maddie Brown: Well, I have a simple formula that applies to most businesses. Not all business, but a lot of entrepreneurs, then small business owners. If they set aside 10% of their gross for savings that they don’t touch. That they only buy things that appreciate in value with. If they set aside another 20% for taxes of your gross. Then you set aside roughly 40 to 45% of your revenue for business expenses, and that leaves you the remaining 35% to use for your personal life and your personal living. If those numbers don’t work, then you’ve got to shift somewhere.
Too many people spend until the money is gone. Then they are not prepared to pay their own rent. It takes discipline to start out from the beginning putting a portion of your earnings away for the future and for emergencies and if you get in the habit of doing it, most entrepreneurs get $1,000 in and then they spend $1,100. The 100 is on credit. They dig a hole that is really difficult to get out of.
Whereas if you take that same $1,000 and you say “I’m putting $100 in a savings account. I’ve got 450 available for business expenses. I’ve got 35% form me, and I’ve got my tax money set aside. If you can run within that parameter, you can create cash flow that works.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. That’s absolutely right. It’s so funny how we … the biggest mistake you can do is spend your receivables before you’ve actually received them. We get a little over confident. We are entrepreneurs. Sometimes we are over confident.
Maddie Brown: A lot of times.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, this is great. Not only are you teaching all these clients, but it’s like you are the guardrails.
Maddie Brown: Well, there’s a lot of bumper cars.
Melinda Wittstock: I bet there is. This is so helpful. I think often too people are taught or they grow up like I was. I was taught that it was impolite to talk about money. It took me a long time to be able to talk about money. I like that we are really talking about money here. We are getting right into it.
Maddie Brown: Very few people. Very few people have anyone in their life at all that they actually talk to seriously about money. It is so intimate and so personal, very few people open up their checkbook and say “Here, look what I did last month.” They are ashamed. They are embarrassed. They think they spent too much on coffee. They don’t have anyone that they talk to about.
I used a comparison and I think it’s a good one is it’s a lot like going to the gynecologist for a woman. You are going to look at stuff that is maybe not something that you want to do personally, but you’ve got to look at it to make sure that your business has a pulse and stays alive.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Absolutely right. You’ve got to be able to share about it. This is especially true when it comes to scaling a business. If you are hoarding and you are doing all your Quickbooks entries yourself, when you should be out selling your services. I like what you said earlier about not doing your own bookkeeping, but if you are doing that kind of thing you are not going to be scaling or growing your business. You may feel this need to have this be a private thing, but as long as it remains a private thing, it ends up being pretty much a solo practice and not a scalable company where you really have to get out of your own way.
Maddie Brown: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself going? Are you just going to continue doing what you are doing or do you have bigger plans? What are some of the things that you’d like to see?
Maddie Brown: Well, I have the great blessing to be saying that I’m doing exactly what I want to do and I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I want to continue to do that. I want to be on maybe a bigger stage as far as education for entrepreneurs and being a resource for them to get the information that they need to really be successful.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, that’s wonderful. You are doing the right thing by being on this podcast.
Maddie Brown: Thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s a good step. I think it’s so important though to just even in terms of changing the game, making sure that our children start to get educated. I find it quite criminal that our schools and colleges really do not teach financial literacy on a personal finance basis or in terms of business. It’s going to get more and more important because I’m sure you are aware of this, people call it the gig economy.
By 2020, it’s only like 18 months away, 40% of the American workforce are going to be gig workers. Meaning they are self employed. They go from gig to gig to gig and managing their finances, they are going to have to start to think more like entrepreneurs.
Maddie Brown: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: This is really vital knowledge for everybody, whether you are an entrepreneur or not. You are probably not going to be a paycheck person in the same company with all those benefits and security for much longer.
Maddie Brown: Yeah, times have changed.
Melinda Wittstock: No, they really, really have. Oh my goodness. Maddie, how can people find you and work with you?
Maddie Brown: Well, the best place to find me is to go to smashingnumbers.com. There’s a 25 tips there that you can download. You can use that site to contact us and make an appointment. I’m always happy to have a conversation about how you can be more successful and learn to love your money and be excited about your business. The key thing is to go to smashingnumbers.com and you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back with you. We’ll work out something to make things better.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you for putting on your wings and taking flight with us today.
Maddie Brown: Thank you for having me.