313x0w.webp

Work Alchemy

Transcript 

Ursula (host):

Hello, and welcome to the Work Alchemy podcast, conversations about impact, where entrepreneurs and leaders share how they have impact, the sweet moments and the challenges. I'm your host, Ursula Jorch. I help entrepreneurs grow successful businesses that make a difference in the world. Impact is more than mission, more than purpose, even more than your why. Impact is where your unique self and business meet the world and contribute to making it better for all of us.

Ursula (host):

These stories are here to inspire and energize you, so you can have your own unique impact. Today's guest on the podcast is Kathy Svetina. Kathy is the founder of NewCastle Finance, a company offering fractional CFO services to women-owned small businesses. She helps business owners as a financial problem-solver to get clear on their numbers and their financial strategy so they feel confident they're making good decisions that will result in a thriving business. Welcome to the podcast, Kathy, I'm delighted to have you here.

Kathy (guest):

Thanks so much for having me, Ursula. I'm really excited to talk to you.

Ursula (host):

You have said that your goal is to help more women get into the C-suite by building their own companies. Why is that important to you?

Kathy (guest):

I get asked that quite a lot and the reason for it is first of all, I was in a corporate environment for 14 years. I was in finance, and as you can imagine, finance is a very male-dominated world and there was not a lot of women in there. I mean, there've been so many times when I was actually the only woman at the table and I'm the only one bringing the perspective of a woman into this conversation, so it really bothered me. That's one thing that really bothered me.

Kathy (guest):

What really bothered me too, is that I saw as high as you go, there's not a lot of women in the management, in the higher management positions. When you look at the structure of the CEOs, there's only about 7% of women that are in those positions in the U.S.. That's a problem.

Kathy (guest):

The problem with that is because women are making 70 to 80% of purchasing decisions, and if they're not included in those conversations when it comes to making products, when it comes to making services, how much are we actually missing on the innovation that could be produced because of the input that women are not having in those conversations?

Kathy (guest):

For example, Sara Blakely is like a poster child for this. When she first started Spanx, she had a really hard time explaining why the market actually needs this type of product, because all the people who were making decisions in the manufacturing were men. If-

Ursula (host):

Yeah. And not wearing those kinds of garments.

Kathy (guest):

Yes. Exactly. It's really hard to explain the type of issues that women have and the needs for the service and the products that women have if the decision-makers are men. By the strike of luck, the guy that she ended up talking to had two daughters who he talked to about it, and they said, "Yeah. This actually makes sense. This is a great product." That's how he helped her and that's how she started it. I wonder if women were in those positions, how much easier it would be for her to get someone to help her.

Ursula (host):

Right. Her and other women who have innovative ideas that could be on the market as well. What do you think it contributes when more women are in that position? I mean, beyond understanding the market better and giving a broader perspective, do you think it has broader implications?

Kathy (guest):

I think it does, is it brings a certain balance to the leadership. It doesn't make sense that women we're 50% of the population and we have a lot more college degrees now where we have again ... I think we're like at 52% college educated people are women. It's like, why are we not included in those types of conversations? It's not only about the diversity and economic impact, but it's also what type of conversations we have when it comes to leadership.

Kathy (guest):

I mean, women bring a certain leadership insight into the company that men just wouldn't have. It's a lot more, I would say, broader perspective, than you would just have with just men in the leadership positions.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. There's so much research now that companies with diverse perspectives, whether it's women or folks of different races and people of color included, that those companies do better. Particularly there's research about women and how it actually increases revenue and all those bottom line things. It still amazes me that that hasn't been embraced, but of course it's a lot more complicated than that.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, you have a company that provides fractional CFO services. I'd really like to understand the difference between a CFO versus financial advice from your accountant or a financial planner. How does having a CFO-level person help women entrepreneurs build their businesses?

Kathy (guest):

The way how I explain ... And I get asked that a lot too. What's the difference between an accountant, bookkeeper and a CFO? These are just numbers people, how many numbers people do I need in my company? Right?

Ursula (host):

Right.

Kathy (guest):

The way how I like to explain it, if you think about it, accountants and bookkeepers are concerned about the past of your business. They record what happens. If you get a bill, if the customer pays you, so they're responsible for the transactional piece of your business. Making sure that the books are done correctly, that you're counting everything properly, that everything ticks and ties. That's what the accountants are there for. That is their job.

Kathy (guest):

They're concerned about the past and reporting the past. Meaning, how do all those transactions look like on your profit and loss statement, on your income statement, on your balance sheet? That's what they're concerned with. Making sure that those numbers that you have that they're correct and accurate. When it comes to the CFO, however, that's the person that's concerned about the future of your business and the overall strategy of your business.

Kathy (guest):

For example, the CFO would look at those numbers and would try to figure out how to use those numbers that you have right now, the past ... The past is the past, the past happened. How do you use that to drive your business forward, to figure out where do you want to be in six months, 12 months, three years, five years down the road? How do we bridge that gap between where you are right now to where you want to be? What needs to happen on a greater scale?

Kathy (guest):

Not only what needs to happen in your business, but also looking at the whole ecosystem of what's happening in your industry, what's happening in your competitor's, what's happening in the world in economic sphere so that they can actually translate all of that into your business and how you can move forward and drive it.

Ursula (host):

Okay. It's like other C-level executives in the sense that there's a strategic perspective there.

Kathy (guest):

Yes. Exactly. A fractional CFO, that's exactly what it means. It's instead of being a full-time CFO in your business ... Because small businesses don't need a CFO on a full-time level, unless they get into like 50, $20 million, but they do still need that type of direction. The fractional CFO is there for a fraction of the time, for a part of the time in your business.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Yeah. Which is a great invention, whoever first did that, I don't know how many years ago, a long time, but still, it's brilliant, because it's the kind of role that seems to lend itself to being there on a part-time basis, a fractional basis. Yeah. Can you give us ... I'm just really wanting to drive this point home about the value of a CFO perspective. Is there an example you could provide us with in terms of this is what the person was doing before, this is what happened when we came in and provided that CFO level role?

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. Sure. A lot of the companies that I talk to actually come to me because they do realize that they have an accountant and it's for them where they want to grow. Usually, by the time they come to me, they already are a couple of million dollar company. It's just not sustainable for them to just fly at the edge of their seat, so to speak and they need a lot more direction. They need someone to actually be a partner in their business.

Kathy (guest):

When I come into the company, we take a look at their business model. We take a look at their financials and we take a look at the goals. Usually, a lot of the times what they also are thinking about ... And this is a great piece for the fractional CFOs too, is they start thinking about, "What do I really want to do with the business?" Especially if you want to sell it down the road, three, five years from now, you have to start looking at your financials more from a perspective of what is really attractive to the buyer?

Kathy (guest):

For example, are there certain processes that you have to put in? How is your balance sheet and P&L income statement going to look like to the potential buyer? How do we get it to a point where you're going to get the most out of this transaction when you actually sell it? Those are the type of things when people come to me and they start asking me these questions, like, "How do we prepare ourselves for the seller down the road in the future in five years?"

Ursula (host):

Okay. I'm guessing too that you are in a good position to be able to advise on how you manage growth strategies. Because I think people think that some companies just have this relentless growth trajectory and that everything kind of falls into place. But it's quite challenging to grow a business because you're increasing expenses at the same time, so managing that balance is not an easy thing.

Kathy (guest):

Oh, yes. For sure. When it comes to growth, it's really ... And that's where I like to tell people, when you grow, you have to look at the whole picture. It's not just the revenue that's growing. What's also growing is your expenses with it too. For example, are you going to need more people because now you have all this business that you need to support? Are you going to need more inventory? If you're an inventory company, for example, like an e-commerce company. It's not just the money that's coming in.

Kathy (guest):

It's also, you need to be able to support that as well. The other piece is too, which people forget about, if you are getting more people in your company, if you're hiring more people, you're also going to have to manage those as well. Do you need to hire managers? Again, a fractional HR person would be able to help you with, how do you actually manage these people? What type of compensation plan you put them on, are you going to have a health insurance? Are you going to have bonuses?

Kathy (guest):

These are all the questions to think when you're actually growing a company. It's not just growing a company, you also have to grow it in a healthy and sustainable way so that it's not like a house of cards when it all starts tumbling down when it gets really high.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's a great description. Yeah. Well, you focus mainly on ... And correct me if I'm wrong, on small business, is that right? Like smaller companies? Small to medium?

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. The companies that I work with usually have started already. They have a sales of about at least a million dollars. The companies that I work with are between a million and 10 million in sales, those are the ones that I really enjoy working with.

Ursula (host):

Okay. What kinds of lessons can companies of that size gain from how Fortune 500 companies manage their finances? I know that you're really keen on sustainability and of course, finances are a big part of that, but are there things that we can learn from companies that are much bigger?

Kathy (guest):

Yes. There's actually a lot. People tell me, "Those are big companies. They have all these millions that they're making, what do they really know about small business? There's nothing applicable." But it really is. The way how I translate into the small business finances is actually putting the structure together that really helps businesses as they're growing in a healthy and sustainable way. We already talked about accountants and how important it is to have the numbers in a timely and accurate basis, right?

Kathy (guest):

I like to think about the finances in an analogy of a house. When you think about a house, for it to be standing and to stand the pieces of time is, what do you really need for that? The one piece that is really important is the foundation. The foundation is your accounting work. That is your bookkeeping. Making sure that the numbers that you're putting in that they're correct, that they're accurate, that they're timely, that everything is reconciled right.

Kathy (guest):

That's unfortunately when a lot of the small businesses, they have that foundation, but they don't think about the other pieces of the structure of that house. There are four other pieces to it that they forget. With a house, you also have to have these walls that keep the house together for standing, right?

Ursula (host):

Right.

Kathy (guest):

That is the financial analysis, which means that you take all those numbers that you put in the foundation, and you take a look at it really from a perspective of, what can I learn from it? What type of insights can I get from? What are some of the trends that I'm seeing? How are my clients, for example, paying me? Are they're starting to pay late? That is something that you should be really looking at. Is there going to be a problem down the line, down the future? Because that's going to really affect your cash flow in the future.

Kathy (guest):

Those are the types of the things that you look at when you look at your finances and when you look at the financial analysis. Then the third piece is what I like to call is the interior design of the house, which are your financial systems and processes. Meaning, are they really supporting your business in a way that you can actually make decisions? Just like in a house, you are not going to put a bathtub in the middle of your kitchen, right?

Ursula (host):

Right.

Kathy (guest):

Because it just doesn't make sense. It's, are the processes and the system that you're currently using, are they actually making sense for your business? For example, is the accounting system that you're right now using, is it supporting you to make decisions, or do you actually have to go back and take a look at it? What is something that is going to be supporting you better? Then the other piece is when you think about this house, what is it that protects it, right? That's the roof. That's where your financial planning comes in.

Kathy (guest):

That is that strategic piece that we were talking about at the beginning is taking a look at your business from a perspective of, where am I going to be, not just three, six months down the road, but that year, three years, five years? What is my exit strategy? Taking the time to really think about not just working day to day in the business, but actually working on the business from a 10,000 foot view and taking a look at, where do I really want to be? Where do I see this business going? How does the economy, how do the competitors tie into all of that?

Ursula (host):

Right. That refers to something that I know you're keen on and I'm with you on this, is looking at the lens of long-term growth versus fast cash. I think so many people, especially in the online realm, there has been such a flood of people talking about, "Follow my six steps to six figures or seven steps to seven figures." People believe that in order to grow and market their business, they have to follow somebody's formula.

Ursula (host):

It really gets problematic because no business is the same. Every business has unique elements to it, and because I think people are afraid to wander outside of these templates, these maps that are provided, that it's really tough to build sustainability because you're trying to follow somebody else's map.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. Exactly. I like to say that leave the cookie-cutter approaches for the cookies.

Ursula (host):

Oh, that's good. I like that.

Kathy (guest):

That that's where they belong. It's true. Every business is different. You look at the business model, it's like, what works for someone might not work for you. That's where I get really riled up is when I constantly see these ads, "Oh, make a six-figure launch, or five-figure launch in a week." The question is, what does it really mean ... taking a step back and what does it really mean a six-figure launch? Is that six figures in sales? Is that six figures in profit?

Ursula (host):

Right. Big difference.

Kathy (guest):

Is that, yeah, six figures in cash? I mean, what does it mean? When you actually start peeling this onion into the layers, you see that six figures usually means sales, but the problem with it is to get to $20,000 in sales, you have to spend 19,500 in ads and all the other stuff that you have to do. What do you really left off? $500 in profit? I mean, it's deceiving.

Ursula (host):

Yes. Absolutely. Well, another related to what you were mentioning about a business model is that a subscription-based business model, that can be challenging to manage. Tell us about how that influences cash flow. Because on first glance it seems like, oh, okay. Subscription model would work well because you're getting a steady income each month from each of these people, but it kind of ... Well, I'll let you expand on that. I'm curious what your perspective is.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. Essentially, subscription models are where someone pays a monthly fee for, let's say you have a course and instead of offering it at a one-time payment, people actually pay throughout the 12 months, six months, or whatever you say, which actually sounds great, right? I mean, you get that steady cash flow, but the problem with it that people don't understand a lot of times is that now you have to manage those payments, because what happens if let's say a customer's credit card declines? How are you going to support that? How are you going to find those?

Kathy (guest):

The nice thing about it is that right now they have tools that are able to help you with that. Again, you have to pay for it. You have to subscribe for it and really think about, how do I make sure that my customers, they sign up for it, they pay for it two, three months, but then all the rest of the nine months something happens and they actually fall off this revenue that I'm generating? How do I make sure that I actually find out that, A, people fell off and, B, follow up, so then make sure that you're getting paid for it, right?

Ursula (host):

Right.

Kathy (guest):

The subscription model is great, but again, people don't really think about it in those terms that it creates this back-office problem that now you have to fix.

Ursula (host):

Right. Yeah. Makes sense. Well, I wonder about your own business model in the sense of, is a fractional CFO arrangement typically a retainer thing? Because that sounds a bit like a subscription model. I'm curious how that works in your business.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. It does actually. I have two models, so to speak. One is advisory where people come in and just ask certain questions. That's usually for ... Because I work with a lot of startups and founders that are starting to get things up to speed and they have questions regarding, "How do I make sure that my financials are done correctly for my investors? Also, how do I make sure that I have all the financial processes in place when I do get an investment?" I do advise them on that. That's the advisory portion and that's like a project one-time thing.

Kathy (guest):

Then there's, like you said, and that's correct, it's the retainer, the monthly support, which is that I'm actually in the business with a business owner and we work on the business long-term. I usually start with my ... My first engagement is for six months because we do need the time to get the business up to speed and to actually see the results happening. Then I have engagements after that or 12-month contracts. It is a longer engagement and that's how I usually work. Yeah.

Ursula (host):

Okay. Going back to what we started with, which is supporting women to reach C-suite level through their own businesses, do you think women entrepreneurs have different challenges financially than men do?

Kathy (guest):

That's a great question. I think with women, what I'm seeing, it's a lot more emotional as well. When I work with ... I mean, sometimes I'm just not a CFO. I'm also a therapist as well. That's how it feels like. I mean, that's the enjoyable part of it too, because I'm able to help them through, for example, pricing. Pricing is a big, big issue because it seems like women generally have a hard time pricing their services or their products in a way that is not, I would say, diminishing what they're actually doing and actually taking a look at, not from a perspective, what would I pay for it?

Kathy (guest):

But, what would the market pay for it? How is the market looking at my services or my products? How do I price it for the market? Versus, what am I willing to pay for it? Which comes with a lot of emotional baggage of, is it worth it? Would I pay for it? Am I good enough? That's where I think women have a harder challenge when it comes to the financials of their company.

Ursula (host):

Recognizing the actual value of what they're offering.

Kathy (guest):

Yes. Yeah. Pricing is a really fascinating topic. I love talking about pricing.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. I've done a lot of coaching around pricing and it's a tough one, especially when you're starting out. Even if you go to the research effort and identify where you might position in the market, pricing's a lot more complicated than that. It's not just about, what will the market bear? It's also, what can you, with confidence, ask for and really embrace yourself? Because that energy of doing that makes a difference in how you're presenting yourself. Would you agree? That's my perspective.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. Exactly. A lot of the pricing is also positioning on the market as well. It's where your brand comes in. It's, how do you want to be perceived? Does that perception, is it reflected in the pricing as well? If you want to be perceived as let's say, Macy's of the world, but you have Walmart prices, that's not going to work, right?

Ursula (host):

Yeah.

Kathy (guest):

It's really going to affect your business as well, and it's interesting, actually, in the pricing psychologies too, because people always go, "Well, what if I'm not making much sales is because I'm priced too high?" The interesting question is, what if you're not making sales because you're priced too low?

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Right. Yeah. There's a disconnect between the brand you're trying to talk about in your marketing and the price, and when there's a dissonance like that, that makes a difference in people's buying decisions.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah, it does.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Well, I know that you really personally have this view about working to live rather than living to work, so avoiding overwork and burnout. How do you manage your own business so that you're working to live? A related thing that maybe we can get into as well is, how do you deal with the question of growth when there's growth opportunity versus thoughtful sizing? Is what I call it, where you're really thinking about, "What size business do I actually want to run?"

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. This is something that I've been thinking about for my own business too. For me, what really stuck out was I made a conscious decision at the beginning when I started my business, that I [inaudible 00:28:02] my lifestyle with it, in terms of, I don't want to grow and ... I could easily grow into, let's say 50, 60 clients and employ people and do all that. It's doable. The question is, I don't really want that. What I want is a boutique-style business.

Kathy (guest):

I made a conscious decision to do that, to only work with a handful of clients that I really enjoy, that I can really help, that I can really help them grow their business. That's my business side. The other side, I also want to help the most people that I can, and that's where podcasting and content and presentations come in, so that people know that these are the types of services out there and who to go to.

Kathy (guest):

It might be that I'm not helping them personally, but I'm still helping them in a way that they're getting that information that they need to have that healthy and sustainable business, where to go to get that type of help. For me, it was more of a decision of, "What do I really want my life to look like?" Being in the corporate environment, I was working sometimes crazy amounts of hours. I just didn't want that in my own business.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. No. That's great. Your clarity is really compelling. It's an important decision to consider and make. Absolutely.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah. It's also one that I think once you start and you start seeing the demand and people start asking, it's really hard to say no, if you don't have that conviction of, what is my guiding light, I guess, guiding post? Where do I really want my business and my life to be? If you, I guess, deviate from that, you might actually find yourself floating out there just where it takes you. It's good to have that.

Kathy (guest):

What do I really want and how do I want my life to look like? Especially if you're a small business owner, because your business and you are just so intertwined.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Absolutely. Well, Kathy, I'm interested to explore the issue leadership and I'm always interested in impactful leadership. That's what I call leadership that's based around desire to contribute and make a difference, change things for the better. In your role as a fractional CFO, you're in a leadership position in companies. How is that to manage fractional leadership in the sense that you're not there full-time? You're there part-time. How do you think about leadership in that situation?

Kathy (guest):

That's a great question. I mean, leadership for me is in that sense, when you're a factional person, you're there only for a fraction of the time. I think it's really important to work with people that are susceptible to working with you to that type of leadership, because you can't ... And I always say, you can't control people. You can take the horse to the water, but you can't make him drink it. It's more of a gentle persuasion and leading people to, "Hey, this is what we can do, and this is how we can solve the issues."

Kathy (guest):

But you can't really have them do it unless they want it. That's where I take the perspective, is when I'm also very careful is that the clients that I take on are the people who really, really want change and they really want to take the business forward. Because I'm not there to tell them what to do, I'm there to guide them through it. If they're not perceptible to that guidance, then it's just not going to work. That's why I look at the leadership, in my role, is that people have to be willing to be guided versus me telling them what to do.

Ursula (host):

They have to have some inner motivation to be part of building that in a company.

Kathy (guest):

Yes. Exactly.

Ursula (host):

Well, and related to that is of course company culture. Do you feel like, and again, in a fractional role, that you have any role to play in helping to build and develop culture, especially since you're involved with a lot of startups?

Kathy (guest):

I do in terms of when it comes to the type of people that they hire. I do give them that perspective. I am concerned with the culture, that the culture is right. If I see issues, I will tell them. However, it's not something that I actually build. That is the HR side or their operational person. I do get involved in terms that I make sure that they have the right people in places, not just in rights skills, but also that they have the right mindset.

Ursula (host):

Right. Yeah. Very important. Yeah. Well, Kathy, I always wrap up these interviews with some questions about impact. Are you ready?

Kathy (guest):

I am ready.

Ursula (host):

Okay. The first question is, what's the biggest thing you've learned about having impact?

Kathy (guest):

I think the biggest thing that I've learned is that it does not have to be big. When people think about the impact it's, "Oh, I saved the company $10 million, or we signed up this big client." But impact comes in small pieces and bites and bits and pieces. It could be just having an impact on someone because you helped them with something when they had a bad day, or you took the time to actually listen to your employee, or you made someone's world a little better for that day because you took the time to interact with them. It's not a big thing. It's the small things that really accumulate.

Ursula (host):

I agree. I think that's so important to recognize because there's a lot of pressure, I think, to come up with some dramatic grand vision for every aspect of impact, and so much of it is just day to day, how do you show up? What effect do you have? Thank you for highlighting that.

Kathy (guest):

Yeah.

Ursula (host):

The second question in the rapid round is, what's the one thing you've consistently done that's contributed to your success and impact the most?

Kathy (guest):

Consistency? I think, again, it's small things. It could be a small thing, but it just adds up over the weeks, over the months. Just showing up and consistently performing something and then you see results. It's because it's like when you have a river and a rock, it's like you cannot see the dents from a day to day, but after months and years of the river going through the rock, you can actually start seeing the channels. It's the consistency that's really doing that.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. Absolutely. Well, the last question in the rapid round is, what's one insight or piece of advice that you'd share with another business owner who's asking, "How can I have more impact? How can I contribute more?"

Kathy (guest):

I would say taking the time to do self-reflection and thinking, what is it really how you want to show up in the world and how you want to show up for your employees, how you want to show up for your company and for yourself? Taking that time, what is it really important to you and what are your values? Once you're doing things that really reflect your values, I think that's when you see the most impact.

Ursula (host):

Yeah. I absolutely agree with you. Thank you for bringing that out. Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your perspectives on how a CFO could and does really influence strategy and supports growth, and really helps a growing company to understand the financial issues that are part of that foundation you talked about. Thank you for sharing all of that with us today.

Kathy (guest):

Thank you so much for having me on, Ursula. That was such a pleasure.

Ursula (host):

If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to reach you?

Kathy (guest):

You can either find me on newcastlefinance.us. That's my website, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn under Kathy Svetina. I'm the only one in there.

Ursula (host):

Okay. Great. Well, thank you, Kathy. Thank you for the work you're doing in the world.

Kathy (guest):

Thank you so much.

Ursula (host):

Thanks for listening. Join me for more episodes. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app and help us spread the word. Rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts. To discover more about your impact, schedule a business impact assessment one-on-one with me, 60 minutes of focus on your and your company's impact and how you can increase it. Go to workalchemy.com/bia to schedule your business impact assessment. This podcast is produced on the traditional lands of the Cherokee, Tuscarora, Catawba, and Waccamaw Siouan people.