Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Growing Your Business Through Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude , The Tall Ships' Races, Szczecin 2007

It’s the time of year we all give thanks for our many blessings. It’s a good practice in our personal lives, and an equally good practice in our business lives.

On the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week it is my tradition to spend the day calling clients, past clients, colleagues who refer business to me and anyone else who has impacted my business over the past year. The calls aren’t sales calls, they’re gratitude calls. My intention is to thank those that have positively impacted my business’ growth as well my own personal happiness.

I’d like to say that I started this practice because I’m such a good person. But the truth is that I started it some years ago when I was scared to death to make sales and marketing calls. Picking up the phone and asking someone to become a client or refer business to me was terrifying. This gratitude concept that I began was a kinder, gentler (or perhaps spineless) approach.

The first year of the tradition I landed a big client. It was someone who I knew desperately needed my help. I hadn’t heard from him in months, and he was thrilled to hear from me. He was finally ready to face his financial issue and I called on just the right day. What I realized for the first time that day was that he needed my service more than I needed his money. The calls I was making weren’t about generating business, they were about serving others. After that experience, sales and marketing calls became much easier.

That was just the beginning of understanding of the role of gratitude and service in business. The more I began to weave it into my business, the more I recognized how gratitude was impacting other successful businesses I worked with.

  • One very successful colleague writes her thank you notes every morning at the breakfast table with her husband. It’s a sweet practice, and I believe a cornerstone of her success.

  • Another successful entrepreneur I know keeps a gratitude journal, writing in it each day that which she is grateful for.

  • Sandra Yancey, the phenomenally successful entrepreneur who began eWomen Network says that behind her company’s motto “Give first, share always” is a sense of gratitude. She ensures from the top down in her company that gratitude is practiced amongst the members and with not-for-profit causes.

One of the business coaches that has most influenced my happiness as a business owner had me start our work together with a gratitude practice. I’m an accountant. Not a curmudgeonly one, but definitely not the first person to be open to the kind of advice that goes like this:

“Stacey, I want you to write down 25 things you’re grateful for every day.”


“Yes, 25.”

I thought to myself….”that’s stupid.”

But I was unhappy at the time, and thus willing to try new things. 25 was a lot. After the obvious:

  • my daughter,

  • my cat,

  • sunshine,

  • my health

I had no idea what the other 21 should be. But kept thinking and eventually I’d get the 25 down, and every day it got easier, and eventually I realized that the gratitude practice was helping me on a daily basis assess what it was I LOVED about my business, and what it was I dreaded.

Focusing on gratitude brought to the surface that I had been burning myself out spending time doing tasks and taking care of clients that I didn’t have a passion to serve. Focusing on gratitude, and really noticing on a daily basis which clients I was grateful for helped me become very clear about the mission of my business, and it was then I renamed the business Creating Answers and made a bold decision: I was only going to do work I loved, and I was only going to work with clients that I loved; ones that I felt grateful for.

I’m not always successful; I suppose no one is. But what I am is happy. Almost every day when I go to work, I am happy. And I attribute my business’ growth to that happiness, which grew from the gratitude practice.

What are you grateful for?

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
Are you ready to reach your financial goals? Get motivated. Get support. Get results!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Power of Tracking Your Numbers: Step #3

© Nikolai SorokiaThis is the 3rd in a series on creating a financially healthy life. If you jumped in and did the first two steps, Just Do It and Reality, Get a Dose, this one might be the one you might need extra support in accomplishing. Lots of us like to do projects. We like to plan. The first two steps were projects.

This 3rd step requires consistency. Yes, consistency. This is where many of us jump off the financial band wagon.

I liken it to the health band wagon. Most people can stick to a diet for awhile. It might be challenging, you may not like it, but if we knew that we only had to change our eating habits for 3 months to impact our physical health for the rest of our lives, would we do it? Most of us would.

If I told you that getting into financial action for 3 months, really making a consistent commitment, would change your financial life for the years to come, would you do it? You’d have better results if you agreed to do it for a year, for 5 years, or for the rest of your life. But tracking your numbers for just 3 months will make an impact as well. It will reset your clock, equilibrate the way you look at your spending, and serve you in truly seeing your income versus your spending.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Human Experience of Christmas

I’m not a writer. I’m an accountant. (Except now I’m a writer and a financial coach, but that’s another story.) When I feel stuck, that I have nothing useful to say, I read Susannah Breslin. She reminds me how to be a writer.

In her latest series on journalism (and strip clubs, but that’s another story) she reminded me that what a writer does “…for a living is attempt to chronicle the human experience.” Oh, I get it. I’m supposed to be teaching my readers how to have a healthier financial life through telling stories and providing corresponding helpful financial advice.

I realized that in my last blog, I tiptoed. I was cautious. Sure I told stories. And I gave creative and useful ideas. But all over the web are advice blogs about a frugal Christmas, making your own gifts and starting a Santa Saver account.

What is unique about me, what I do that few other financial writers do, is to tell the real human experience of what our financial decisions, or indecisions, do to our self-esteem, our relationships, our happiness and our lives. What was missing in my last blog were these naked emotional truths that clients and friends have shared with me over the years. More people have talked to me about the anguish and pain and simple embarrassment that Christmas can bring than have talked to me about the joy that it brings. Here are some threads of those conversations.

Reality, Get a Dose: Step 2

In the first of this series on financial well being and health, Just Do It, we walked through the steps of a Fully Fit Plan. I encourage people to take a look at where they want to be before they look at where they are.

It’s the same philosophy as Jim Rohn’s excellent quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you’re hanging out only with your current spending plan, only looking at your current reality, energetically you’re creating the same plan for yourself, repeatedly.

If every month you first look at your Fully Fit Plan, it will remind you where you’re headed, where your intentions and dreams are. Simply writing the Plan out declares to the universe, and to your subconscious, that you are on a path.

It also prepares you for a dose of reality: your current spending plan. Now it's time to look, see and tell the truth.

It’s true that not everyone reading this sees their current spending plan as dismal, tight, something to move beyond. But I’m thinking many of you do. If you’re current spending plan had an extra $1,000 a month in it, you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog, you’d be at Intelligent Investing reading Chris Barth.

Just Do It ~ Nike: Step 1

The secret to financial well being and health is: be in consistent action. Or as Nike so powerfully declares: Just Do It!


That’s the key that separates the successful from the unsuccessful in improving financial health. Those that spend consistent time every month working on their finances build their financial muscle and create a financially healthier life. Those that consistently put a little bit of money away every month, even just a few dollars, create a financially healthier life. Those that learn a little something new, consistently, create a financially healthier life. There is no better, faster, more effective approach to financial health than simply being in action.

One frequent mistake I see, and I’ve made it myself, is that we only take action when money is tight, when something’s wrong.  It’s kind of like only going to the gym when you’re overweight and out of shape. You’re spending time just trying to get back to some baseline of health. You never get the opportunity to fine tune your health and strength.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Entrepreneurship and Making ‘Adult’ Financial Decisions

When I launched on I promised myself that I was going to start Telling the Truth. It’s easy to be a financial guru, talk at people, and tell them, “This Is How You Should Handle Your Money.”

Adult Financial Decision?

It takes more courage to be transparent and share stories not just from our clients, but from ourselves, and even more courage to share not just from our past, but from our present. So here I am, being courageous.

Every summer I head to Dallas for the annual eWomen Network Conference. I look forward to it all year long. It’s the largest business women’s conference in North America, and an amazing place to learn, connect and be inspired. Sandra Yancey, CEO of eWomen Network, provides the incredible opportunity to learn from a long list of business rock stars: Michael Gerber, Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Robert Stephens (Geek Squad), Lisa Nichols, Zig Ziglar and the list goes on. This summer, I’m not going.

What’s an ‘Adult Financial Decision’?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

3 Words to Small Business Success: Easy, Fun and Popular

What’s the attitude you show up to in your business each day?

Are you having fun?

Does it lift your spirit to connect with those you need to connect with to be successful in your business?

In my blog Community Service, Leadership and Small Businesses, I told the story of how my best friend Tina Reynolds, long-time small business owner of Uptown Studios, uses her love of community service to drive the marketing for her business. I met Tina 15 years ago, when she was doing volunteer work for a local HIV/AIDS service organization, and through the years I cannot begin to recall how many organizations, actions and activities she has led or been part of. Her dedication and stamina for community service are unparalleled, and as a result she frequently receives awards, honors and nominations.

At this week’s California Small Business Day, she was honored by California’s Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg as the Capital Region’s Small Business of the Year. Senator Steinberg made an excellent choice. From the vantage point of a best friend I’ve watched Tina’s business grow, and then sputter, and then grow again. I’ve watched her maneuver through the economic challenges of the past few years, always with a positive attitude.

So how exactly do you get to be a Small Business of the Year?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Date Night With Your Finances

Date night with your finances? What’s that supposed to mean?

Just what it says. The phrase “Date Night” evokes thoughts of fun, special, coveted. For many, the phrase “Bill Paying” conjures ugh, drudgery, lack. What would it look like if we felt differently about our finances?

Most of us have it backwards. Its no wonder we think of our finances as drudgery. This is how the majority of us “do our money.”

  • We squeeze the chore between the laundry and washing the dog.

  • We collect our bills; we log in to get our bank balance (and hope that everything has cleared the bank); we pay our bills.

  • We look to see how much is left, and hope there is some.

  • Then, when we’re tired, over it, a little grumpy, and the dog still smells, we make the important decisions. This goes to savings, that goes to debt, and this gets set aside for car repairs.

  • But the dog smells, and company is coming for dinner, so I’ll make those decisions next month.

Would you like to do it differently? Would it be all right if life got easier?

That’s a phrase I learned from Maria Nemeth, a pioneer and visionary in the field of our psychological and emotional attitudes about money. She published “The Energy of Money” in 1997, when few were addressing the important issue of how financial decisions are made.

When it came time for “Telling the Truth” and dealing with my own financial problems, one action I took was Date Night with my finances at my favorite café. Me, my portable financial binder, and my dreams. I coveted those luxurious Saturday nights, not squeezed between laundry and dog-washing (okay, I don’t really have a dog.) I used the time to dream, to look at the truth and to plan. Bill paying happened elsewhere. Each consecutive month, I got a little more clarity, planning became a little easier, and my dreams felt more attainable.

Our money and our financial decisions should not be a chore. Bill paying is a chore. Financial decisions impact our future, our dreams, our peace of mind. They intertwine with who we want to be and who we are. We should have a little fun. We should make it a date night!

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
Reach your financial goals. Get motivated. Get support. Get results. Are you ready?

Entrepreneurial Passion vs. Sales

To succeed in business you must sell yourself!I was listening to a new client tell a story that I’ve heard many times.  She is in a creative field and passionate about her work. She really wants to work, but contracts aren’t coming and she is struggling financially. I asked the obvious question: “How are you marketing and selling yourself?” She looked a little blank; and then she scrunched her face; and then she launched into an explanation of the ways in which she was kind-of sort-of maybe marketing herself. Which really was to say: she wasn’t.

Through years of working with small business owners, many have come seeking answers to their financial issues. As an accountant, I would like to think that good accounting would provide the answers. But the truth is that it’s usually not about the numbers. The truth is that the most important component of impacting one’s financial issues is sales and marketing.

If you’re tempted to stop reading because you don’t own a business, please keep reading.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How Crayons Create Financial Peace

Chloe's Crayon Drawings: "How I spend my money now" and "How I want to spend my money"

My biggest revelation about how to help others with their financial issues came when I began working on my own financial issues. In Telling the Truth, I point out the rather obvious fact why so many American’s with money problems can’t seem to get beyond them: we don’t talk about money so we have no opportunity to tell the truth about it.

We are a financially illiterate society. There are few places that you can go to work on your money, talk about your money, make your money better. I lay awake at night sometimes dreaming up solutions to this societal problem. And bit by bit, I create answers. That’s how we came to start Financial Boot Camps, and that’s how I tripped upon creating this exercise for a Boot Camp: draw your financial life with crayons.

The accountant in me questioned the exercise that the right side of my brain had created. “Um, that’s silly.” But the right side of my brain, the creative side that has been fed and nurtured by studying a lot of research into the psychological and emotional aspects of our relationship with our money said: “Forge on!”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Dad: Lessons In How NOT to Own A Small Business

My Dad: Small Business Owner Mickey PowellToday is the anniversary of my dad’s passing. I learned a lot from him, many lessons to share with all of you about small business ownership. In summary: do not do it the way my Dad did!

First, to alleviate any perception that I am speaking ill of him, I want to share what a fine man he was. My love of community service comes from him. His dedication to making this world a better place is clear in this tribute:

Even his business ownership was, in a way, community service. He was ‘saving the family business.’

Now, on to telling the truth. As a child I watched my father work, work, work, and then work some more. He came home late for dinner, went back to work at night, and worked most weekends. Even our few vacations were often spent at work-related fly fishing conclaves or networking conferences. Both of my parents worked, hard, yet we never seemed to have any money. We weren’t destitute; dinner was always on the table. But money was always an uncomfortable issue. Always having a keen sense of numbers and business, even at a young age it was apparent to me that something wasn’t right. I often wondered, weren't business owners supposed to be rich?

As a teenager, I became the bookkeeper for my dad's business, and my childhood observations were clarified. The business was barely profitable. My dad either trusted me enough to let me see his truth, or he thought I was so inexperienced I wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t my place to ask.

But the questions I kept to myself then are the exact kinds of questions I ask clients now. And they are questions I want you to ask yourself if you own a business, no matter how large or small. Yes, even a side Tupperware business, or a little consulting gig, or do a bit of wedding photography. These are all businesses, and they do impact your family!

Here are 12 questions to ask yourself.

  • Do you spend less time with your children, spouse, or friends as a result of your business?

  • Have you ever paid an employee late?

  • Are there months that your business doesn’t pay you?

  • Do you ever put off buying basic things your family needs because your business needs the money more?

  • Have you ever lied (or avoided the truth) about your business’ finances to your spouse?

  • When was the last time you took a real vacation?

  • Do you avoid asking for professional advice about your business’ health?

  • Do you truly know how profitable your business is?

  • Is your business contributing to a retirement fund?

  • Do you have partnership agreements that aren’t in writing?

  • How much have you borrowed against your family’s home, retirement, savings, children's college fund or inheritance?

  • Does your spouse’s income support your business?

If you don’t like your answer to more than a couple of these questions, it’s time to find a trusted advisor, a business coach, an external CFO, or a mastermind group and tell the truth. Print this blog out and put it in the front of a binder titled “Making My Business Better.” Make an action plan. Make it better. In six months, ask yourself the questions again. Then repeat.

What would my dad’s answers to these questions have been? 100% not good. In the 32 years I watched him run his business, I only saw his business run him. I’ve taken these lessons and have been committed to reverse engineer his mistakes into a balanced plan for running my business. I haven’t always been successful, but one of my life’s quests is to be just like my dad when it comes to community service, and exactly opposite my dad when it comes to small business ownership.

Friday, February 11, 2011

10 Decisions Not to Make Alone

We all make financial decisions every single day, some small, some large. Do I cook at home or go out to eat? Do I change banks? Do I clean my own home or hire a housecleaner? Do I buy a used car, a new car or lease a car? Do I start my own business or buy a franchise?

The original title for this blog was “10 things you might want to talk with your CFO about,” but most people don’t have a Chief Financial Officer (though I’m trying to change that.) Many people do, however, have a financial planner, a tax accountant, a business coach, or some trusted advisor. Rising in popularity is the type of financial and money coaching that I believe is so valuable.

Over the years I’ve had many a client announce, during their scheduled monthly appointment, “I leased a building last week,” or “my attorney submitted all the paperwork to change my business to an S corporation,” or “I took out a home equity loan.” I always wonder why they wouldn’t have waited just one more week to discuss the decision with me. I suspect it’s often our subconscious telling us to move forward before someone tells us "no."

Accountants get accused of being naysayers, and there’s a bit of truth to that. We’re conservative by nature. I’ll be the first to tell you: don’t always take your accountant's advice. But: do always ask for it. Discussing the facts of major decisions, as well as the feelings and the what-if’s, is invaluable.

What are the 10 things you should discuss before you jump in?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Motivation ~ Creative Approaches

Last February I promised myself that I would implement a creative motivating approach to ensure this January would not suck. In an accountant’s world, no matter how planned and prepared you are, the multiple January 31st bureaucratic deadlines wreak a bit of havoc on your business. This year was going to be different!Serving clients is sometimes more motivating than money.

The first workday of January I handed 21 crisp $5 bills and 21 crisp $1 bills to my staff and had them hang three ‘clotheslines,’ $6 for each day

and one clothesline for each team member. The instructions for distributing the ‘prize money’ was as follows: I got the $6 any day I had to deal with January bureaucratic deadlines, and they got the money on days they handled it all. $5 went to rockstar team member #1, and $1 to the supporting team player.

Is $126 enough money to motivate your staff? Is it enough to motivate ourselves? No.

But the truth about motivation is that money is rarely the most effective method. (Unless you're Goldman Sachs handing out high six-figure bonuses. That's motivating.) For most micro businesses  that’s not an option. In a micro business, serving your clients and providing value is often the highest motivation.

How can we use money to motivate ourselves and our team? Here are some creative approaches we’ve used with clients:

Pay yourself first. This works for the business owner who always pays everyone and everything else first, and then doesn’t have enough left over to pay herself. She’s extremely motivated to pay her vendors, but not so much herself. We implement a bill-paying structure that puts her first, and by the end of the month, she's jamming to bring in enough money to pay her vendors, because she won’t let them down.

Put yourself on a commission structure. This works for the business owner whose monthly income fluctuates between high and low. He has a good month, he takes all of the profit and suffers during his next low month. For a commission structure to work, you need to learn how to set your base ‘salary,' which you can read here: The Power of a Salary Structure. Then create a motivating commission structure for yourself, document it, take no more, and take no less from your business.

Bonus your team based on your goals for the year. Small businesses rarely commission their employees, but if you want your team to be extremely clear about your goals, putting a commission structure in place for them, no matter what size, signals that you need their help in reaching your goals. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the motivation.

How do you implement creative motivation in your business?

  • Choose one thing that consistently nags at you about your business and look at solutions from a creative vantage point.

  • Choose a dollar amount you’re willing to invest in the problem.

  • Use a creative way to come up with your implementation plan (mind mapping, journaling, drawing with crayons are a few great approaches).

  • Then jump in and earn the results you want!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creative Brain vs. Business Brain

I love working with creatives: artists, actors, healing professionals, writers, photographers, all of them. Our society has created a “right brain vs. left brain” mentality. If you’re creative, you aren’t a strong business person. If you’re a strong business person, you aren’t creative. But we know black and white statements aren’t true. Creatives can make great business people, especially when they provide themselves with structure. Creatives have the ideas, the willingness and the passion to throw themselves full force into their work. And that is what it takes to be successful in business.

One of my inspiring clients decided, as a strategic business decision, that 2010 was going to be her year of “living as an artist." She had long worked hard on her business; she had tethered herself to do the work, bring in the clients and earn a living. She had been successful enough, but by the time she got to me she wasn’t enjoying it much. Something needed to change.

"Creatives have the ideas, the willingness and the passion to throw themselves full force into their work. And that is what it takes to be successful in business."

So 2010 was her year of living as an artist. Her mission was to fully embrace her creativity and joy of being an artist. Her goals, strategies and actions all supported that mission. There was still some structure: billable work, marketing, financial coaching and professional development. But the focus was on enjoying her creative talents, not on meeting her monthly revenue goals.

And what were the results? November and December were two of the most profitable months she’s ever had. And, she’s happy. It was a year of transformation and expansion for her. She’s well positioned to focus on revenue growth in 2011. Most important of all, she was well cared for, and she is, after all, the most valuable asset in her business.

Why would I, an accountant, support that kind of strategy? Because I’ve seen its effectiveness and profitability, over and over and over. If it’s done with intention and structure, it can be a very effective business decision for both creatives and for any other kind of business owner.

What’s your mission for 2011? Does it include creativity? Art? Health? If not, weave it in, and then write down what kind of return on investment you expect from giving yourself that gift.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Telling The Truth

Many experiences in my career explain my evolution to becoming a “Money Wise Woman." My tenure at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC), my time at the financial helm of CARES, an agency that I helped grow from $500,000 to $3 million in three years, and the past 13 years I’ve advised, coached and counseled hundreds on their business and personal finances at Creating Answers.

But those experiences aren’t why I’m a Money Wise Woman. There was a point in my life that I awoke to the fact that I had placed myself in serious financial trouble, and that’s when I started telling the truth about it.

Even with all I knew, and no matter how hard I tried to get myself out of it, for whatever reason, I couldn’t. That’s when I started seeking more answers. And not just from fellow financial professionals, but from coaches, mentors and counselors. And that’s when I had my big “ah ha” moment, when I realized what keeps so many people stuck in their financial lives.

We don’t tell the truth. We don’t talk about money, so we have no opportunity to tell the truth about it. There are few places to go when you feel stuck with your money and don’t know what to do. When you’re a financial professional, it's even scarier. I was stuck in denial, fear, shame and blame. Having the courage to start telling the truth made all the difference in the world.

For years, I had many clients who didn’t want to take the time to talk to me about their money. I was their accountant, and it just wasn’t a priority for them. Now it’s a cornerstone of my practice that every client talks to us about their finances every month. It makes a marked difference in their financial clarity, and their financial peace.

My advice to those of you who feel stuck in some area of your financial life: Talk to someone consistently and productively. Your bookkeeper, your accountant, a coach, a trusted mentor, a trusted colleague. Draw a circle of support around you, tell the truth, and create some accountability in your financial life. It will make all the difference.

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups.
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.