S5E15: The Four L’s In Changing One’s Mindset with Robert Bendetti, Jr.

“There is a real direct application to being human with what you learn in theatre and Improv.” Robert Bendetti

Today, our guest is Robert Bendetti, Jr., CPA, who is the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Life Cycle Engineering. As CFO, he is responsible for all financial operations of the company and accounting contracts, purchasing, Process automation, and IT. Before Life Cycle Engineering, Robert served as VP of Finance at Galey and Lord and CFO of the Coastal Logistics Group and a financial management position within Lockheed Martin, Hormel Foods, and Hilton Hotels.

Robert is also president and founder of the Global CFO Council. The purpose of the global CFO counselors is to provide an educational and networking forum for senior financial executives to share the best practices, discuss current financial issues, and learn about current topics related to their job performance. There are 1500 members in 32 countries. Robert has a great sense of humor and embraces Improv due to his background in the performing arts.

There are four L’s that goes into changing your mindset. These include Learning, Leading, Listening, and Leaving. The first L is learning, which comes from podcasts, books, mentors, and networking, and it could be professional certifications, which is a great way to learn in whatever field you’re in.

The second L is leading, which includes serving and empowering others and volunteering wherever you’re. In the current environment, community, civic, and industry associations desperately need folks like us to volunteer at any phase of your career. There’s no greater way to learn and change your mindset than by embedding yourself with others and serving and empowering them.

The third L is listening, and a great way to grow is by being a mentor and having mentees and listening to them. Another way to do this is to listen to your customer, and the only way you can listen to the customer is if you’re out with the customer. It is also essential to listen to your team members and learn from them.

I am primarily an internal consultant to the CEO and the business operations leaders. But also, my customers include the end-user of the service and products and solutions that we sell, and then I have all the team members at the company. My job is to keep everybody happy, engaged, excited, and equipped to do their job.

The last L is Leaving, and sometimes to change your mindset, you got to change some things about your environment. You need to take out some things and leave like negative influences, some bad friends or some habits.

To affirm those that are listening and doubt themselves, you can learn enough so that you can have an enjoyable conversation and interact with people, or have the confidence to say something in a meeting or to your boss in the moment, instead of on the way home and have all the regret not doing it. Those are the kind of skills that you can learn by doing maybe a little reading or listening to a podcast or taking an Improv class.

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S5E11: An Accounting Firm that YOU Should Hire with Courtney DeRonde

“It’s really about understanding what is your way that you uniquely contribute to your business, and most of the time, it’s not going to be where you’re spending most of your time.” Courtney DeRonde

Today, my guest is Courtney DeRonde, a CPA and managing partner of TDT CPAs and Advisors— the boutique advisory and accounting firm for small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The company helps overwhelmed, successful leaders, understand and maximize financial information to achieve better results and move the organizations to the next level.

As the owner of a firm and managing partner, she also has first-hand experience running and scaling a small business. Courtney understands the need to help and teach clients the importance of being more financially literate. When TDT takes on clients, they learn more about their business to become a better partner, not just for a transaction.

The first question that successful business owners ask is, “how does my business make money?” As businesses grow and scale, you get the increased activity that you’re not directly involved with anymore. Therefore, the mindset shift is looking at good information that tells you where your business is making money.

The second question is about cash flow, and it is a shift from how much I have to what is flowing in and out of business over the next few weeks. Continuously looking at that helps eliminate surprises because most financial surprises are not usually positive. This mind shift allows you to be prepared and take action if things don’t look good shortly and not just look at where you stand today.

Our approach with our clients is very much from an educational standpoint, and the goal is to empower them to understand and use the information that we give them to make decisions.

The third question is about determining the highest leverage of time and talents. It’s really about understanding how you uniquely contribute to your business is. Most of the time, it’s not going to be where you’re spending most of your time.

Your product needs to be profitable, but it doesn’t have to be the best. It would be best to focus on the mix of something that you can do profitably and something that people need. Once you get something out there, you can improve it and make it better.

Often, people don’t have accurate information in their heads about costs and overheads just because no one’s helping them understand how all of this information flows. Pricing is a big part of how we help clients with recognizing and getting information around margins.

There’re certain times when it might make sense to lower your margin on a particular bid because of the future opportunities that can come from it. The main thing is knowing your actual margin to avoid paying to do the job instead of getting paid to do it.

If the price is a very sensitive issue, you need to give clients a couple of options. This gives them the opportunity and the agency to decide what they want.

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S5E9: The Big Power of Tiny Connections with Jen Nash

“I truly believe that every person you meet has the power to change your life, and you have the power to change theirs.” Jen Nash

My guest today is Jen Nash, The Connector in Chief. Jen helps people add more meaning to their lives through connection. She’s a master facilitator, passionate about masterful storytelling, corporate training, and an author and sought-after executive coach. With over 20 years working as an entrepreneur building a multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio, and offering consulting services to Fortune 100 former tech, health, and finance giants, Jen Nash now regularly inspires and supports leaders to deepen their connections of all the good things in life.

 Born in Canada and raised around the world, Jen is an IFC certified executive coach and a graduate of the coach of the Life program. She studied communication design at Parsons and the New York School of Social Research in New York City. When not traveling the globe learning new ways to say thank you in finding bright souls with whom to foster lifelong friendships, Jen Nash can be seen biking around New York City, Los Angeles, or striding around El Centro, Mexico.

People have this innate fear of talking and connecting with strangers, and it is human. In chapter two of my book, I ask the reader to scan the top eight excuses that come up to avoid connecting with people. I then ask them to pick the one that resonates with them, and I jump into it.

Networking to some degree sounds hard because there’s a net underneath; you’re working. I genuinely believe that if you want to stay employed for the rest of your life, you want a net around your work. But connecting is so much more because it is about infusing that little moment with intangible fun.

We really get hard on ourselves, and it’s like from the outside to the inside, humans second guess themselves. One of the things that I suggest in the book is if you’re feeling awkward, be honest, lean into that vulnerability and share that because all of a sudden, it just makes you human.

I think that in life, we have this misconception that there is such a thing as good and evil. Sometimes we all need to accept that we don’t always get the final say. Unfortunately, I believe that humans only grow when they’re in pain. One of the exciting things about the big power of tiny connections is these little sparks with other people that are not always pleasant.

When you look into the answer to what more you want out of life, you can understand where you might want to consider leaning in and connecting. I truly believe that every person you meet has the power to change your life, and you have the ability to change theirs.

There are a lot of people who are held back by fear. Only a courageous person can realize that they will never get more if they keep living precisely how they have been living. It is hard but sometimes, when you hold a spotlight at something scary, all of a sudden; it’s not so frightening because the spotlight is illuminating all the dark crevices, and you’re seeing it.

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Accountants, It is Time to Think Like a Marketer with Kate Colbert

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Thinking like a marketer can be difficult when most of us — well, think like accountants. Marketing isn’t a space in our brains; we use that often. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to, or don’t feel like we need to. Other times, it’s because we don’t even know where to start. 

Luckily, I had a guest on the podcast who’s expertise is in just that. Kate Colbert is the author of “Think Like a Marketer: How a Shift in Mindset Can Change Everything for Your Business,” as well as the owner of Silver Tree Communications, a full-service marketing company. 

Kate has (thankfully) broken down how to think like a marketer into five simple steps — which we can all apply to our businesses. Without further ado, because, as Kate says, “the perfect time to start thinking like a marketer is now”: 

1. Communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales.

Communication should be the top priority for anybody doing business, whether you’re in the accounting world, retail, restaurants, or publishing. Communication is about adding meaning and value to potential customers – not just trying to snag a check from them. 

For example, most people only hear from their accountant around — you guessed it — tax season. They get a simple email reminding them to make their appointment, and maybe a follow-up or two. However, outside of that season, customers typically aren’t getting much year-round value from their accounting firm. Also, it doesn’t have to be that way. Blogs, podcasts, and newsletters are all great ways to engage your clients (present or future ones) and add meaning to your relationship, without asking them for a sale of some kind.

When a change in the tax code occurs, accountants need to reach out to their clients who will be impacted by this change.  For example, “There is a change in the tax code, and I would like to have a conversation on its potential impact on your business.  Can we meet for cup of coffee to discuss?” 

“The accounting professionals who are finding ways to create meaningful conversations are the ones that are creating sustainable businesses for the long haul,” she said. “And (they’re) capturing a lot more value to the bottom line because they can raise their prices because they’re [bringing more value to their clients].”

2. Live and die by your client’s insights.

Are you paying attention to what your clients are saying? What they like and dislike, what they want to see more or less? If not, you’re leaving tremendous marketing opportunities on the table. 

“What’s interesting to me about financial professionals is that, here’s a group of subject matter experts who are all about the data, right?” Kate said. 

However, how many accounting firms are invested in the data of what their customers think? What’s your net promoter score? How is it trending? 

Give a survey, or set up a focus group — you glean your information is up to you. Make this a priority in your marketing strategy. Otherwise, you’re not going to know where to go.

“Once you have those clients insights, you know what pivots to make in your firm to be able to grow,” Kate said.

3. Market in a way that’s strategy-religious and tactic-agnostic. 

So many companies — accounting and otherwise — take the opposite approach than this. They’re all over the place with their strategy, but married to one tactic, just because they think that’s what the rest of the industry is doing. 

The trick is in the opposite approach: Be married to your strategy (once you do the front-end work to come up with a robust one). Try a little bit of everything when it comes to the tactics — aka the vehicles by which you deliver your strategy. 

Maybe the tactic is a video series, a workshop, a television commercial, or a newsletter series. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. However, the trick is to experiment with a variety of approaches and see how best to deliver your strategy. Where are you seeing the most engagement, or the most leads coming from where? Pay attention to the numbers, and start devoting resources to the tactics that are producing results (and pulling resources from tactics that don’t).

“It’s about being willing to try new things,” Kate said. “And then walk away from new things.”

4. Create cultures and processes that align with your brand.

If your firm has a brand associated with never surprise-invoicing people, then you should, as a firm, build billing processes and packages around that core value. According to Kate, structure your pricing in a way that there’s some cushion. Just in case people call and ask for further advice, you don’t feel like you’re giving it away for free. 

Also, if you have a brand focused on being accessible and comfortable, and not nickel-and-diming the client, then build a culture surrounding that. An example Kate used is Southwest Airlines. This is an airline that’s built its brand around never being late, and not putting more costs on the customers’ shoulders. When a Southwest plane lands, all the crew going around and cleaning so that the aircraft can be used again for its next flight on time. Southwest built a culture in its employees around its “never late” branding, and that shines through in their marketing.

“What are we willing to do differently to deliver on the story that we’re telling the marketplace about what makes you a better accounting firm than the accounting firm down the street?” Kate asked.

5. Do everything in service of maintaining a virtuous cycle of creating value for the client while capturing value for you. 

This last marketing value is related in a way to the first: It’s all about creating value. Kate states, “that might mean giving things away for free. If giving something away for free is going to land you even more business eventually, then it’s a good cycle to get into.”

“It’s about can you create value for people, not just upfront when you’re trying to win them, but continuously, how do you keep creating value?” Kate said. “But how do you capture it back? We’re all in business to stay in business. So it’s not about giving it all away for selling it for too cheap. It’s really about figuring out how do you make sure that you’re pricing yourself right.” 

Much of this value comes back to the concept of “delighting.” How do you not just serve your clients, but delight them? Whether that’s the atmosphere, you create within the office, the gift that you give a new client, or that phone call informing the client of a tax law change.  How do you delight your client enough to where they not only want to keep coming back, but they also want to bring you quality referrals? 

Strategically doing this — in a way that eventually brings money back to your bottom line — is how to create a winning marketing strategy (and business). 

“You can’t create more value for your clients, or future clients, or associates, or whomever you serve if you’re not capturing money back to the bottom line,” Kate said. “If you’re constantly working your marketing, your business is going to be around as long as you want it to be. Then you can retire and go buy a yacht.”

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Networking: The Power of Knowing Someone

Watch people’s face when you bring up “networking.”  You’d think someone said a bad, offensive word.  Most people’s reaction to the idea of networking can be nothing short of loathing.  Of course this isn’t everyone, but many of us are not enthusiastically looking for the chance to strike up conversation with “random” people. 

Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, Ivan Misner gave four reasons in an Entrepreneur article as to why people avoid networking opportunities despite its obvious benefits for professionals.  Individuals tend to fall within one or more of the following groups: they’re not confident, too busy, too impatient for results, and/or they don’t want to sell or be sold to.  

I tend to agree with these categorizations.  When attending business conferences, I frequently sense that people are reluctant to introduce themselves and chat with others. Why? They perceive the other attendees as strangers—and mother always said, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But these don’t tend to be the type of strangers she was talking about. These are people you need to meet—so how do you meet them? You stick out your hand, tell them your name, and smile. Simple as that.

There are those that ruin the idea of networking for the rest of us though.  I have actually walked away from people when they were looking over my head for their next victim and really not listening to what I was saying. They’re appalled, and so I ask them: “Can you tell me the last three things that I said?” They don’t know, because they weren’t listening to me. If I cannot look people in the eye throughout a conversation—for example, when they approach me as I’m packing up after a presentation—I reassure them that I am still listening. Networking, communication, sharing: it’s a matter of respect.