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People Process Interviews: Linda Brown
Episode 927th January 2020 • People Processes • Rhamy Alejeal
00:00:00 00:25:45

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Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the People Processes podcast. My name is Rhamy Alejeal, and today we are interviewing Linda Brown.

Linda is awesome. She is a Master Certified Profit First Professional. She's a Certified Preventive Growth coach and she's the founder of Spire Business Inc. Linda supports entrepreneurs in demystifying their business finances and providing guidance to increase business profits so that they can bring more money home. She's often referred to as the Voice of Reasons by her clients, Linda Equis, business owners with the tools, strategies and skills they need in order to create sustainable growth in their business and profit. We're excited to have you on, Linda.

Thank you so much for having me. It's a wonderful opportunity.

Well, we're glad you're here. So my first question is, and I have to ask this for our people in our field, most kids don't dress up as CPAs and accountants and bookkeepers when they're kids. How did you wind up in the field and doing what you do today?

By accident, but most people kind of fell into that one. I was actually in corporate America for about 14 years where I was a securities analyst for mutual fund companies. I didn't have enough people interaction, so I went there to make a profit. Let's just say I worked on a lot of estate plans. But what I realized is that, all entrepreneurs , when they were having their estate plans done, they didn't actually know how much money they were making or how they would bring it into their business. Interestingly enough. At the same time I was a financial planning, I also had started a boat dealership with my husband. So I literally went out on maternity leave and within six weeks, my CPA came up to me and said, "Hey, you know, QuickBooks? I have a couple of clients that need some help. Would you please help them sell for the first five years?"

I actually did this for free. They didn't charge it all. I charged nothing. I went home on maternity leave. I said, "Hey, this is really cool." I didn't go back to work. I just helped a couple of clients that the CPA sent to me. Yeah. It was, will you work for free? The answer is yes, I did. I helped businesses grow tremendously and then all of a sudden saying, Hey, I'm helping all these businesses grow and I'm not making any money. There's something that's not right here. So then I started actually creating the business. So if you were one of those lucky clients between 2002 and 2007 and there was no charge.

Well, that's it. That's tuition, right? That's you. You got to really learn and do the real life work. That's a great journey. Well, having back in 2002 you've been doing this a while now. A lot of our listeners are CPAs and bookkeepers. Most of them though are entrepreneurs or HR leaders who are in charge of the staffing and organization inside their company when they're listening. A lot of our guests are very successful people like yourself. I try to bring that back because the biggest learning doesn't come from talking to somebody who knows everything. A lot of times it comes from the big mistakes and the problems. So I'm hoping Linda, you will take us to your greatest entrepreneurial failure mistake bad day. And tell us that story, how you got there and what happened.

My bad day is actually digging out of the hole right now. To be honest, as most entrepreneurs, I was really good with numbers and business and could run my business really well. And most entrepreneurs start their business for whatever reason they start their business. Yours is HR, someone else might be interior design or engineering, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we know all the aspects of business to run our business. So mine was the numbers. I was really good at the numbers, but the marketing, not so much.

I grew for the first 14 years by word of mouth. It was really good. I had enough time to do my stay-at-home mom’s stuff and I had enough time to do business stuff. But when I decided, okay, it's time to get serious, my kids don't need me anymore. I had absolutely no idea on how to market. I took marketing class after marketing class and basically what they taught me is what you should do but not how I should do it. And so I got very frustrated and so I'm still digging that out. Now, learning how to dues, not what to do.

So when was the kind of moment of realization that you needed to really start investing in the marketing side of the business?

Believe it or not, it was when I joined profit first and Mike McCalla woods is a big believer in having a niche. And when I met Mike McCalla with some profit first, I had 44 clients in 44 industries. Mike's like, you need to niche it down. You need to set up a system and processes within this one niche. And I realized very quickly that he was right because when we see my first profit to profit first clients, I couldn't bring on staff because each individual client had an individual process or procedure. So I couldn't actually bring staff on because there were no systems and processes. So to set up my systems and processes, which meant I made it to me show that all my clients were the same and then I could start marketing and growing it. Should you wind up both focusing totally? Actually it's dual because it's female entrepreneurs that work in the coaching and the design and staging industry for their homes.

Nice. Okay. Well, cool. Any lady, female entrepreneurs out there, especially those in the coaching or the interior design. We've got a specialist right here on the podcast for you. We'll talk about how to reach out to her later. What do you think our listeners can learn from the kind of your journey and story? Why do you think they could take from that?

It's not enough for two things. One, it's not enough just to know what you know, you also have to find somebody that's going to teach you what you don't know. And by teaching, it’s not telling you what you don't know. It's how to solve the problem of what you don't know. So just like yourself are teaching people how to get the HR into their business because it's a big thing. Right? I can tell you, I don't know everything. That's why I come to you.

Right.Yeah. No and I'm in the same boat. I have a full time bookkeeper and two different CPAs and both of them, all three of them I know enough to hopefully tell if they're trying to cheat me. That's about it. Other than that, I'm trying to find the best people and letting them direct me.

And that's the key aspect right there, is to find the people and know enough not to let them cheat you. I have quite a few clients who actually did just what you said. They went out and got a bookkeeper and got a CPA only to get audited and not realize they weren't doing information correctly. So the course comes down to when you just blindly hand something over, are they actually doing what they're supposed to do or not? And how do we as small business owners know and be able to track what they're doing?

Right? But the reason I have two CPAs is because I still have a third party. I have a third party audit, right? Just to have someone go behind, it's worth paying twice as much to make sure that the first guy does the job. Right? There's a great quote by Steve jobs and he says, I don't hire smart people to tell them what to do. I hire smaller, more smart people to have them tell me what to do. And I think there's a balance between that and giving up the responsibility of running your own company. Right? You have to balance both. You need smart people telling you what to do, but that doesn't mean it's not your butt. On the line. So it's still your responsibility, even if it's someone else's acumen that's directing you.


Well, that is awesome. So what's coming up in the next six months? What have you got looking forward to? That's got you excited that you're doing over at Spire?

Well, I'm really, really excited because we are switching over to group platforms in group training for our clients. We have a four step process of understanding the foundation of which to me, is your money. If as long as your money is working correctly for you, you should be able to do everything you need it to. So we have a money mastery class, a profit mastery class we have from the first implementation and then pump plan growth workshops going on.

So good. You've been doing those things for a long time, but now you're focusing kind of on the group class version.

Right. I was doing it one on one and I realized that I wasn't reaching as many people and my calendar got full so I was turning a lot of people away. So we've started implementing the cost strategy sessions.

Interesting. Are those already live? Are they up and running? Are you coming up on your first one soon?

We've done a couple beta ones that were word of mouth. But we're starting to advertise this month for the first classes. That will be just 90 minute workshops in August, going into full classes in September.

Well, this podcast will air in August. So guys, we'll talk about at the end where you can look up information on this. But by the time this is up in live, you should be able to check it out. And if you're interested in a course , or a group class, that'll help you dive into the money side of your business. That's pretty cool. Well, let's talk a little bit about what we call rapid fire questions. There's just ways to maybe quickly share some of the key knowledge and bits that you've picked up. And one of my favorite questions is if you could recommend one book to maybe go alongside a people processes, how your people can be your organization's competitive advantage, what book would you recommend for new business owners out there? Honestly, it's a children's book, the little engine. Yeah, I remember this book. I think my parents read to me the little engine.

What I find is that, most entrepreneurs need the mindset to know that they can go forward. I can do this, I can do this. We tend to get so discouraged and bring ourselves down, that little engine, he believed that he could get over that mountain if he just found the right partner to work with them. And so he went asking and asking and asking until he found the right partner.

Well that's a great one. We'll put the link in the description as well. We've had maybe a hundred 110 interviews or so. Never had that book recommended. And I think it's an awesome one. That is so cool. Alright. So if you could go back in time, send a letter to yourself or whisper in your ear on the first, that first day you took maternity leave and we're starting up your business, what would you tell yourself?

Oh, what would I tell myself? First of all, Linda, you can do anything that you set your mind to. Second of all, is set up the processes and the systems your business needs long before you need them.

Make a plan.

Well, make a plan. Yes, but more than the plan, actually have them. Because what we find in business oftentimes, possibly even yourself, is that we know the plan is there. We know what we need to do, but unless you actually have the plan working for you and the system's there when you really need them is when you're too busy to set them up.

Sure, sure. I have a joke that I do in a lot of my talks. It's not a very good one, but it's about naming your kid before you have it or at least before the epidural comes in. Because we had a very good friend who didn't do that and then wound up having to change their daughter's name three days after birth because she named the child after the epidural. Just saying, have a process in place before you need it. I often use it for maternity leave. If you've got employees, make your maternity leave policy before your first pregnant employee is wondering what's going to happen to her.

Exactly. And I'm going to play, I was that person. I had two children, one six weeks early, one five weeks early. Neither one was named within the first 48 hours. I hadn't gotten anything there.

And Hey, it works for some people and every once in a while you wind up with the infamous fun Yetta, as a child because that's what you're craving, right? Especially in all seriousness and business, you don't want to be deciding, what's your disciplinary policies going to be when it finally happens? You don't want to, when you have five employees or 10 employees and you have your first complaint that you know, one of our clients harassed me or I'm worried that my manager isn't treating me well because I'm a woman.

Those are things that are not fun to think about, but you really don't want to be trying to figure them out in the hours after someone brings it up. Right. Oh my, I got injured at work today. Here I was, it's an office environment. It's a CPA or a bookkeeping shop and you know, getting into the office, I slipped and fell and I hurt myself. What do we do? Who do we call? Do we even, you know, do I go to mind? But doctor, do we, you know, just a little plans like that, that there's not that many. But if you have a process or a plan in place when it's actually needed, it's going to save your butt.

Exactly. Not just the plan, but the process document. And it's easy to find out because when we're in the moment, we can get scattered.

Right? And it needs to be, I mean, in the long run, it needs to be accessible, right? It's not just written down. It can't just be in a binder that one person knows. It needs to be accessible. It needs to be communicated well. You know, someone needs to be responsible for it. Perhaps the most important thing of having processes is how, and when does it get updated? How do you review it and improve it over time? All of those pieces, the differentiator between businesses that can scale and those that don't. Right. Exactly.

That's where I think most people want to go. They want to be able to scale. We want to have the infamous four week vacation.

Right? Absolutely. Well, let's go on. So outside of the wonderful book of the little engine that could, and that you have told yourself back on the first day, you can do anything and to think big and also that you need to have actual processes in place. What is the best business advice you've ever heard from someone else? The best business advice someone's passed along to you?

My very first employer as an adult, I'm actually on the very first day of my job with him, said, "I don't care what you know, I don't care what you don't know. The most important thing that you will ever have is who you know and what they know is. So get good contacts, find out what they know, what they're experts in." You know, because everybody has a background, right? Especially entrepreneurs. We all have some type of corporate background or knowledge behind us. So figuring out what they know as well so you can go and ask questions because you don't need to know it. You just need to know the person that does.

I like that. I can't remember who said it, but it's something like in business there's never a how problem. There's only a who problem, something like that. I always keep in mind whenever I'm trying to figure something out is like, how are we going to do this? What are we going to do? Well, the real question is who, who do I know who can do this? That's the reality.


Well, I like that. We're an HR podcast. Of course a lot of people listen to us to think about scaling those people operations side of your business. What do you think is the number one policy, procedure, system training that's had the biggest effect on your clients or your company internally?

Two-fold, if I may. First, it's figuring out, because I work with a lot of entrepreneurs. Are they in fact an employee or are they in fact a contractor? So that's first and foremost for any company, especially the small employer who doesn't want that person to be an employee because it's going to cost them extra money. So in the long-term, figure out who actually needs to work for you and then get them set up correctly. Bring in the expert HR person, make sure you're covered with your disability and your workers' comp. Have your employee manual inset. You really don't want to mess up when it comes to people's resources.

Oh, I like that. But yeah. So number one, is get your people right, especially the classification independent contractor versus employee.

You know, I always say, money is the foundation of your business. You can float by for a little bit. If something gets undone, you cannot float by if something ever happens to your people.

Right. So, money is the foundation, but money's important because you gotta pay your people. That's the number one reason, right? The people are the thing that executes nothing but nothing, but people execute anything in it.

Exactly. And you have to make your people happy so that your business is going to grow. Because even times these solo entrepreneurs, right, their worst boss is themselves. They could have worked in corporate America for years and years and years, but the worst boss is themselves. So yes, money is key and fundamental, but you need to make sure your people are done right because they're going to be the ones that support you and grow with you.

You said there were two parts, the first one is getting that right.

First part is getting the people right, but the money, you really need the money as the foundation. Hence the fact that I'm here. But you are definitely the human resource aspect of any business that has to be done. Right?

So in terms of like a financial process that you put in, what would that entail? What's it look like to actually have a process around that?

So most of my clients, I actually have trained to do their own bookkeeping and five minutes a day, the biggest problem was even if you went through and became an MBA or you've become a CPA, you learn the theory of business. You do not learn how business practically applies to you. So I even have actually an auditor from Deloitte and Touche who left and went out on his own, came to me and said, "Hey, can you set up my chart of accounts with me and teach me how to use QuickBooks? Because I only know how to look at it when it's all done. I don't know how to get it where it is." And so we sat down and we worked through it with him. And so it's really important that anybody understands how money comes into the business, how to have it go out of your business and how to categorize it when it's in there.

So sitting down with an expert to really design that chart of accounts, that general ledger, so that it actually reflects what's going on in your company. Not just like using the default and trying to hope that it's sorts automatically correct.

Right. So whether you're doing it or you hire that CPA to do it, because oftentimes that CPA's trying to do tax savings for you, they're not thinking exit strategies or growth strategies or you're going to need a loan in five weeks or five months or five years strategy. So we need to make sure that not only is your profit and loss being calculated correctly, but that your assets are truly shown where they need to show.

Interesting. Honestly, I think you're giving most CPAs too much credit. I love CPA's and they're half my audience, but most of the people listening I think would know that the majority of CPAs, at least the ones I've worked with.

If they're actually looking for tax savings for you, they're there. They're in the top 10% already. The majority that I've ever worked with are just purely transactional. I'll get the darn taxes filed one way or the other. I think it's even a top 10% that will put the time in to advise you on how to better structure your taxes much less, go into the depth of design and that you're talking about.

Well, I actually have created partnerships with a couple of CPAs that are tax experts. Specifically because I want to make sure that the books and my niches are set up to help the individuals but also help them tax effectively. So we've actually gone back and forth on, I need to see this as the bookkeeper who's tracking the pennies too. I need it to look like this for the tax return to get them the biggest impact. So very interesting. Yes. Partnership.

I have a friend who's not a client, he's a small business ,who's a contractor. He does some of the work on some of my rental houses and he set up his business about a year ago with his brother. He didn't come to me to do any, you know, work or really a CPA. And of course almost as expected. He and his brother had a falling out and now they're in this world where none of their books are right. They don't know who I was. They filed an extension April 15th. Then I was telling him and he was mentioning that he wasn't even clear that he owed his taxes by April 15th if he filed an extension. He just thought the extension, you know, gave him till October 15th. It is shocking, the level of financial knowledge that many small business owners have. They don't really need to know more until, until they really do.

I mean, I think you're exactly right. If I were advising any company that any new business is getting started up, I'm going to go register my company tomorrow. You need to know who's an independent contractor and who is an employee. Get that right from the beginning and you need to get a financial process so that you know what dollars are coming in, where they're going, how they're being spent, how they're being categorized, how to spend them. I think that's awesome. I think those are the basic one and two for becoming someone other than an independent contractor yourself. To become something other than just the guy who does the work to actually run a business.

Even the independent contractor needs to know the money. No, that's very true. That's very true because it happens time and time again. You think you've got things done right and Oh, you're mixing personal money with business money or Oh this wasn't really a business expense. So what happens often times is that one or the other can get audited and because you're mixing money's up now if your business is getting audit now you're personally getting audited or if you were personally getting audit, now your business is getting out of it. Right. So gosh, one audit is hard enough at a time. You really don't want to have to go through two at a time.

Makes a lot of sense. Well, if we have listeners on here who are interested in reaching out to you, how should they find out more about you and what should be the trigger in their mind for when they should?

I'll reach out before you think you need to. So if you are a small business, I would say it's time to reach out. But they can either go to my website which is S P I R E or is our email. 

Awesome. And are you on social media?

I am on social media. I am N S L I N B coaching or Spire_business.

Nice. We'll put links in the descriptions below. Linda, thank you so much for coming out today. It was great to talk with you.

Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

All right, ladies and gentlemen, that's it today for our interview with Linda Brown of Spire business, I'm excited to have her on. We covered some very interesting pieces, some of the key takeaways. I really liked that she crystallized that to really start a business, you need to have a financial process in place. You need to. It's a basic setup, but you need an expert to come in and it'll be worth its weight in gold to come in and help you design how that money's going to come in, how can be categorized, how it's going to be spent. I appreciate her plugging the HR side too. I'd love to help you out there. Of course. In the meantime, check us out and If you haven't subscribed yet, you can get subscriber only content, like our new on-boarding checklist for small businesses that we're really excited to share with you. You can also find us at Poplar Financial on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Love to see you there. Now it's time for you to go out there, have a great day, and get your work done.