Welcome to The Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. I’ve got to tell you, this is going to be a fun one. Today, I am interviewing one of our clients, Maddie Brown. Maddie is a certified public accountant with 30-plus years working with small businesses. She’s got a passion for helping business owners fulfill their dreams and create the real business they were meant to share. Maddie’s services save time, stress, and money and give people wings. By helping business owners fulfill their place, she fulfills hers, and that really is her gift, and I will tell you it is a gift. I’ve gotten to know Maddie quite well over the last few months of working together, really gotten to understand what her gift is and how she helps business owners.
If the thought of listening to an interview with a CPA might have you wondering, let me tell you this is going to be different because if you care about how the money is flowing through your business and how much of it flows into your bank account and your pocket, you’re going to want to stay tuned. Maddie has a very unique perspective on how to get a handle on all of that, and we’re going to dive into that today. Maddie Brown, welcome to The Unstoppable CEO.
Thank you, Steve. I appreciate the opportunity to sit down and visit. I always learn something new.
Yeah. We’re going to have fun today. Before we dive into all of your expertise and your wisdom, I think it’d be helpful for everyone listening to understand a little bit about your background. How did you get to this stage of your career?
Well, I tell you, I graduated from college in 1980, and I passed the CPA exam in 1981, so that dates me a little bit. For the first 40 years of my life, I wanted to have my own CPA firm, and I wanted to do it in a way that I thought was healthy, wealthy, and wise, and it was not how a traditional CPA firm was run. It took me until the year I turned 50 to develop the nerve and the guts and the wherewithal to leave my employment and buy an existing practice. I can honestly say that the only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner.
I became self-employed at age 50, and I have had to learn about marketing, and I have had to learn about managing employees. I’ve worked with small businesses my entire life, and I want to see small businesses succeed because the reality is 96% of the businesses in this country make less than a million dollars. 4% is what’s making over a million, so you really want to help that small business person, which is the backbone of this country, be successful. I see far too many that are working for money … that they’d make more money if they flipped hamburgers at McDonald’s, and I … That just makes me crazy, and so I want to help small business owners be successful, meet their goals, and live the lives that they really want to live.
What’s most interesting to me about your story is you did something that requires tremendous courage, I mean, to leave the world of employment. For most people, when they get into that situation, there’s a lot of, at least, perceived stability and security there. Giving that up, particularly after having been in that kind of a situation for so long, I really admire that because you did that, and you had to break a lot of habits, I’m sure, and probably stretch your thinking a good bit. To be able to make that leap, it’s not an easy one. What were some of the challenges that you faced and, I guess, more importantly, what was it that you found most helpful to push you through when things got a little bit difficult?
You Must Own Your Outcomes
Well, I have to attribute a tremendous amount of my beliefs and my perception to Jack Canfield who wrote a book called The Success Principles. I was in a program in 2009 that led me back to his work and to become aware of this book, and I will say that it framed up the previous 10 years of my life, and following the principles that he uses in that book enabled me to create a life that I love and a business that I love. I would have to give credit to following the principles in Jack’s book.
What were some of the most important for you as you went through this transition?
The first thing that you have to accept and you have to understand is that you are 100% responsible for whatever is going on in your life. When you take ownership and take responsibility for what’s happening in your life, that informs the fact that you have the right to choose whatever you want happen, and you can control the results. You just have to make a decision about what it is that you truly, truly want. So many people go around doing what they think they should be doing and what people are telling them to do, and they don’t listen to their inner guidance, and they don’t listen to their dreams, and they don’t follow through.
One of my pet peeves is when people blame the economy, or people blame the president, or people blame their woes on someone else. The reality is that there are lots of people making a lot of money, and there’s plenty of money to go around if you just make it happen. I don’t mean you have to work hard at it, but you have to believe and understand that you’re responsible. If you’re broke, Larry Winget says it’s because you want to be. The reality is, everywhere I go, there’s signs that people are hiring, everywhere I go, and so what that tell me is, if somebody doesn’t have a job, then they’re not willing to do what it takes to get a job, and that’s a hard reality. If you’re not willing to do what it takes to run a business and to invest the energy and the time, you’re going to find it very difficult to be successful.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. Years ago, I had someone share with me the phrase you have to own your outcomes. At the time, I was … honestly, I was sitting there kind of owning an outcome I didn’t like very much and that I had really … I didn’t have a tremendous amount of control over. I had control over what I did, but there were some external forces that created some unwelcome circumstance. As I dove deeper and deeper and deeper into that statement, you have to own your outcomes, it became very clear to me that the circumstance that I was in that I started out viewing as the outcome, and I was not happy about having to own it, really wasn’t the outcome. The outcome was what’s going to happen next?
When you can flip, in your mind, that … If you’re dealing with a challenging circumstance, if you can flip in your mind this idea that, “Okay, well this isn’t the outcome, this is just a temporary circumstance, I’m going to own what happens next,” now, all of a sudden, you got the power back. I think that’s exactly what you’re getting at. It’s such a powerful mindset.
One other equation that Jack always talks about is E plus R equals O, so the event, whatever the event is, and then the next step is your response, and those two things control the outcome. You can’t control the event, but you can control your response always.
That’s going to impact where you land on the other side of the equation.
As you’ve gone through building up your business, how have you taken those ideas and made them practical?
What Do You Really Want From Your Business?
Well, when I work with a business, I like to get them as early in their formation as I possibly can, and then we sit down and we look at what their goals are, and what their intentions are, and what they want their life to look like, and we frame up the business in such a way that it supports their personal goals, and their life goals, and the things that they want to have, because everybody’s in a different place. Everybody wants different things, and so you have to know what’s important to someone to make sure that the business delivers on the outcome that they want to have, and so when I work with people, that’s the first place we go is, “What do you want? How do you want it to look? What kind of money do you really want to make? What are you willing to do in order to make that money?” When you take your guide from your desires and your intentions and where you want to be in the world, you’re far greater likelihood of actually creating that and having it be the way you want it to be.
Do you find it hard, as you’re working with people through this process, to get them to really, excuse me, to really open up, be honest about what they want?
Well, most people have an astounding amount of guilt and shame and fear that surrounds everything they believe about money, and you have to work past that, and you have to be able to open it up and look at it and say, “Well, yeah, this is kind of ugly. This is kind of a mess, but this is where I am, and this is where I want to go, and this is what I have to do in order to make that happen,” and so when people work with me, it’s a safe space to look at if they owe the IRS, if they can’t pay their bills, if they are scared and on a money roller coaster. Okay? If you face it and look at it, the knowledge is the power to change it.
Yeah, absolutely. I want to take a quick break. When we come back, Maddie, I want to talk about the flow of money through a business because I think you’ve got a very unique approach, and we’ve heard just the very beginning of it, starting with really getting clear, as a business owner, what you want, but I want to dive into the flow of money and how you help businesses sort of wrangle that because, as you and I have discussed, so many business owners, I mean, they may look great on the surface but, below the surface, there are problems. There are lots of problems. For folks listening to this who are thinking like, “Oh, my money situation isn’t really where I want it to be,” stay tuned. When we come back, we’re going to talk about how you can tackle some of those things and get in a much better place with the flow of money through your business. We’ll be right back with more from Maddie Brown.
Welcome back. This is Steve Gordon, and I’m talking with Maddie Brown. Maddie’s a CPA and she specializes, I think, in not so much accounting but, really, counseling you on how to deal with your money. The accounting is important to that but, really, she takes a much more holistic approach. Maddie, we talked before the break about this idea of beginning with getting clear and being honest about what you want your business to deliver for you financially. You mentioned some of the guilt and the fear and all of that that most of us carry with us around the idea of money.
Once you get an entrepreneur in, as you called it, the safe space, they’re in working with you, and they’ve sort of gotten to the point where they can articulate what they want, now you’ve got to deal with their current reality, I would imagine. I know you deal with people who are in all kinds of different situations, and you help them kind of get out of that to get to where they want. Once they’ve gotten clear, what’s the next step? Where do you take them from there, and what are some of the challenges that you’ve seen people deal with and overcome?
The GPS for Your Business
Well, the reality is they call accounting records books, and they tell a story about you and your business, and you are writing that story with every decision and every choice that you make. When you’re writing that book, that is going to create the outcome that you get from your business. It’s important to, number one, have accounting records, number two, look at them, learn from them, and make decisions and take actions as a result of that review. If you start off with a goal, you have your accounting records, you see what really happened, and it’s unequivocal. The numbers do not lie, and they tell a story about the choices that you have made, and then you can make new choices, choices that support the goal that you have a head of you, the goal that you have in your mind, the goal that I hope you have written down and put somewhere clear for you to be able to see it.
If the accounting records are a tool to use to get you to where you want to go … In the world we live in today, almost everybody has a GPS, at least on their phone they have a GPS. Before you leave home, you program the GPS. You tell it where you want to go, and then you follow the instructions. The instructions come from your accounting records. The instructions come from your tax requirements. Those are the tools that an accountant should use in helping steer a successful business.
I totally agree, and I think that, for most businesses, they’re not getting that from their accountant.
No, they’re not. When I said back at the beginning I’ve worked in a number of public accounting firms, and what I found … that most of them were very limited thinking, very fearful thinking, very looking for the other shoe to fall kind of mentality. Then the other thing is they were working astounding numbers of hours every week and delivering bad news to people, and it was all after the fact, and it didn’t really help the business the way that they can if they work with the numbers and look at the story.
I think there’s a lot of accountants that miss the boat because accounting is, at its core, communication. Most people do not think of accountants as great communicators, and they’re not because they generally get into it for reasons that they think they’re not going to have to communicate. Every time you read a financial statement, you’re helping someone that’s less financially literate than you understand their finances so that they can make smart choices.
As I sit here and listen to you, I think about all of the interactions that I’ve had over the years with accountants through a couple of businesses now and even in volunteer situations where we’ve had accountants advise organizations that I was involved with. That, combined with an article I read a couple of months ago which predicted, very soon, the end of the accounting industry as we know it because of artificial intelligence now … We could debate that all day long. We don’t need to go down that rabbit hole, but I’m sitting here thinking that what you just described is really … it’s the model for an accounting to entrepreneur relationship of the future, that compiling the numbers is easier than it’s ever been, but making sense of the numbers is not an easier than it’s been. It might be more complicated now than it’s been because businesses have evolved.
For those of you listening, if you’re not getting that with your current accountant, you want to be looking for somebody who can give you that kind of value because now that person becomes a strategic partner on your growth team rather than just somebody who’s kind of showing up and reporting what happened last quarter. To me, that’s a fundamental shift in the way that we, as entrepreneurs, look at the relationship that we have with our CPA.
I agree completely. My beliefs come from a life of commitment to looking for the good in things. I’ve got bumper stickers that say, “It’s all good,” and every one of my employees has that in their office at all times so that they keep the perspective, right, that it is all good, and they’re there to take care of the clients, and we’re there to take care of the clients so that they can deal with a stressful situation with grace and ease.
Now, I know you’ve dealt with a lot of very difficult situations. I’d love to touch on some of those because I know that there will be some businesses who are listening, business owners listening to this that are in great shape. Maybe they’ve got the perfect accounting relationship and everything’s all fine. I also know that there’s probably a large number who have ignored that side of the business, maybe haven’t kept records the way that they needed to, maybe have … they’ve not gotten in big trouble, at least, sort of walked up to the line with the IRS, and so they maybe have this challenging relationship with their books and their records and things like that. I’d love for you to describe a few of the situations that you run into frequently, and maybe some folks can kind of see themselves in those situations and what the answer is if somebody’s listening and they find themselves in trouble financially.
What to Do If the IRS Comes Calling
Well, the first thing that always comes to everyone’s mind is the Internal Revenue Service. It can be a scary place to think that you owe money to the IRS. The reality is I’ve worked with lots of people that owe money to the IRS and the bottom line is you call them up, you talk to them, you set up a payment agreement, you live with the payment agreement, and you pay it off, and they don’t take you away and put you in jail. They just want you to work with them to pay the bills. If you keep in mind that they’re just people doing a job, it helps, but that doesn’t change the fact that people get a letter from the IRS … I have a lot of people that bring in unopened mail because they’re scared to death of a letter from the IRS. The first step is to open the mail, read it, and see what it says, and then take an appropriate response.
You can get help to deal with the IRS. Any CPA can do it. Most attorneys, a lot of … there are a lot of tax attorneys. You can drop a whole lot of money into something that can be handled with a simple phone call, and so I always hate …. I hate to have a client come in and say, “I paid a debt resolution company $5,000 to settle my debt with the IRS, and they didn’t get it done.” That breaks my heart because those people are preying on the fear that people have and taking an exorbitant amount of money to do something that generally can be resolved in a couple of phone calls. The IRS is one major fear.
The other major fear is that there isn’t enough money. There isn’t enough money. I talked to a client, actually, earlier today that said, “I haven’t brought in any money in my business. I’m broke. I can’t afford to do anything. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I want to fix up my website. I want to hire a coach. I want to do this. I want to do that.” The reality is what she needs to do is get on the phone and sell what she has to offer, which is a valuable offer. She says, “Well, what am I going to do when I file my 2018 return?” I said, “Well, you’re acting like the year is over. You’ve got four months. You can make a lot of money in four months’ time, so get after it and make it happen.” She was a little dumbfounded, and she said to me, “When I hired you, I had no idea that I was going to get this kind of coaching,” but the reality is that’s what your accountant needs to do.
I dismiss the idea that she can’t make a lot of money between now and December 31st. It’s not true. Getting a handle on cash flow and making sure that there’s steady money coming in is a matter of getting on the phone, for the most part, and making a sale because nothing happens until you make a sale. The whole world revolves around the transaction of selling a service or selling a product. When a sale happens, then cash moves and energy moves from one area to another area, and you get motion. Any time you constrict the motion, then you get in a stuck place, and there is no movement.
I got to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard … I’m thinking back to all of my meeting with accountants over the years, I’ve never heard anybody give that kind of blunt and direct advice, and I think you’re right. That’s not the kind of coaching that people expect. However, really, what you’re delivering is the advice that they need around their finances. Sometimes it requires you to be a little bit blunt and be a little bit straightforward and-
But it’s always a safe space.
It’s a safe space. I’m not judging anybody because I have been in their shoes. I have been there. I know how hard it is, but I also know, deep in my heart, that they can choose a different path.
What Your Accountant Must Be Able to Do
Yeah. I think that must give your clients a lot of hope that it can be brought back onto the rails. For folks who are listening to this who may be thinking … because I know you work with people all over the place, and I wrote-
Your CPA does not have to live in your town anymore. Your accountant, your CPA needs to understand your business and talk to you about how to enhance that business and expand it. They can be anywhere on the planet because the internet resolves any communication issue you could claim to be a detriment.
Yes, absolutely. For folks listening, who do you really specialize in working with? Who’s in your wheelhouse?
Maddie Brown: Small businesses, and when I say small businesses, I mean small businesses, people that are starting and growing and mostly coaches, entrepreneurs, speakers, authors, people in the service industries. We have a lot of coaches that we work with, and that’s kind of our … We don’t specialize in restaurants or manufacturers, and I don’t have the expertise to advise them in a way that would be meaningful, so I shouldn’t specialize in those things, but I do have skills in the coaching arena that make what I do different, and we can help a coach to really design a life that is what they want to live, and what they want to do, and the impact that they want to make in the world. People that care, people that care about what they’re doing and what kind of effect they’re having on the planet.
I love that. What’s the best place for people to go who might want to find out more about what you’re doing? Where can they connect with you?
Our website is Smashingnumbers.com, and that’s what we do. We smash numbers. Some people crunch them. We smash them.
I love that. You have a new podcast that we’re really excited about being a part of called Smash the Bottom Line over on iTunes, lots of great stuff there, so folks can check that out, and you just recorded what I think is a really powerful presentation. You did a webinar this week as we’re recording this, and I think we ought to make that available to folks as well, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they can go find that at Smashingnumbers.com/webinar. We’ll link all that stuff up in the show notes so you guys can find it.
No matter where you are in your business, I’ve always believed that this is one of the things that you’ve got to get taken care of. If you don’t have a good handle on how the money’s flowing then, frankly, you don’t have a business, and so you’ve got to get this taken care of. If you don’t have it taken care of, find somebody. Go talk to Maddie. Wherever you go, find somebody that is a fit for you and get it squared away. If you’re facing some of those scary problems that we talked about, get that … I mean there’s no time like the present to get that nailed down and resolved and on a path so you can get it off your mind and actually get back to building your business because that’s the purpose.
Maddie, thank you so much for investing some time with me today. It’s been a lot of fun as always. I love connecting with you, and I look forward to the next time we’re together.
Thank you, Steve.