LIFT Speaks Ep 20 with Shane Bender: How to Exchange Stress and Chaos for Cash and Clarity in Your Business

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Shane Bender has a plethora of experience in the accounting world. As a CPA, he spent over 15 years in the corporate world and then moved to a digital startup company as their controller until they were acquired. He’s worked as a CFO for a variety of small businesses. He understands how to evaluate a business and forecast for a profitable future.

I started my business because . . .  I wanted to make a larger difference helping small businesses be successful in a more direct and impactful way.

The thing I enjoy most about my business is . . . that I learn so much and get to work with various types and sizes of businesses. I have the freedom to build a business that adds value in areas of my strengths.

The biggest surprise for me as a business person is . . . that you never know when and where new business will come. I have had business come from different contacts and take varying amounts of time to acquire.  We just need to keep planting seeds and leave the timing to God.

One question people should ask me is . . . Why would a CFO help me grow my business, increase cash flow, and provide clarity? 

My older self would coach my younger self to . . . Don’t think so negatively and with a scarcity mindset. It really does not help. Be more positive and think abundantly. 

One thing I wish I knew when I was younger . . .  Everything worthwhile tends to take longer than you think. Work smart and enjoy the journey.

Introduction

Catherine Miller: Hi. My name is Catherine Miller with the LIFT Office. Today I’m interviewing LIFT member Shane Bender with Bender CFO Services. Say that three times fast. I’ve invited Shane to come and visit with us today because he has just completed his book. When is it released?

Shane Bender: Well, it launches on September 25th.

Catherine Miller: It will be out at the end of September and the book is called Forecast Your Future, subtitled How Small Businesses Exchange Stress and Chaos for Cash and Clarity. I read the entire book, front to back, and I can tell you –

Shane Bender: This is amazing.

Catherine Miller: It was a great book, actually. It’s a great book for business owners. We’ve been in business for over 25 years, 30 years. So, we’ve seen the ups and downs that small businesses take, the roller coaster ride that business can take as a small business owner, and it had great advice. It also had great stories. I love the stories and it brought clarity to finance.

I think one of my favorite things about the book, Shane, is that it was very readable. But also, you took finance part of business and made it very understandable. I like to make money, and I want to be profitable, but I don’t really like thinking about it. I force myself to get on and look at all those numbers. Fortunately, most of the things that you told us to do in the book we’ve been doing.

But it’s a habit. It’s something that you have to create, and you brought – made it real readable and easy to understand. What I would like to do for our audience today is help them to understand your background. Why Shane Bender? What’s your background? So that they understand where you came from and why you’re a good CFO for their business.

Shane Bender: Right, yeah, and why I wrote this book because there’s a lot of education out there for small businesses and I have – I graduated from Baylor, got an MBA from that. I’ve worked in the corporate world.

Catherine Miller: Which is when we’re supposed to say …

Shane Bender: Yeah. Oh, sic ‘em bears.

Catherine Miller: Sic ‘em bears. OK.

Shane Bender: Yes, of course. And over the last 15 plus years in the corporate world, I’ve seen quite a different – few different things. I started out doing auditing KPMG and then ultimately worked at a large $200 million electronics distribution company. And I was a controller for a digital marketing company when people didn’t even know what digital marketing was.

I usually had to explain what it meant by search marketing on Google to everybody when I started there. They got acquired and then ultimately was part of this large billion-dollar company because it was an international company based out of the UK, and then I – eventually I went back to working at a small business.

So, I’ve worked in small businesses. I’ve worked in large businesses and then what happened in – 2015 was an interesting year. I was working in a small business where things just weren’t working out that well. I was really overkill for that size of a business, which kind of helped the light bulb of what I do now because I do part-time CFO services for businesses like that because many businesses would not be able to afford a full-time CFO.

They need some of it because I think all of them need some of that, but not – there’s kind of that sweet spot and I would say kind of 2 to 20 million is kind of – in revenue. It’s a sweet spot for needing that part-time CFO.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: And like I said, even below 2 million, it’s important and a start-up is important. That’s a lot of the reason why I wrote the book because the book, it’s a lot of education. It’s written, like you said, with stories. I’m a CPA. I couldn’t make the book – I’m not going to make it about debits and credits and balance – I do say the word “balance sheet”. I couldn’t get around it. But –

Catherine Miller: You did use a few financial terms.

Shane Bender: I mean that – but most of the financial terms I use are terms that I would think that if you were a business owner, you really should know.

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Shane Bender: So that’s the key.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. Well, I love the way that you used analogies to explain some tough concepts in the finance world. So, what made you take the leap from the business world and the regular steady paycheck to doing your own thing?

Shane Bender: Right. Well – and I write about this in the book. There was a day where basically I was laid off of a job I had. I was making pretty good income and then made nothing. I came to this whole idea of the security in the corporate world. There was less security than I thought.

Catherine Miller: That’s right. It’s really kind of fake security.

Shane Bender: I mean you think it’s secure and –

Catherine Miller: And in some ways, there’s more cush there but –

Shane Bender: Yeah, when you have it of course. It is definitely hard to start a business and it didn’t start that way. What ended up happening after that point – and I was really struggling. I talked to my wife about it and we have four young kids and we’re like, “Well, how are we going to do this?” and I remember sitting – kind of the next day just sitting in my closet and I was praying and I was just asking God, “What do I do next?” and I just had this thought to look in the safe in my closet there and I pull out the safe and there’s this gold watch.

I knew the gold watch was there. It’s a watch that my dad gave to us basically. He passed away when I was very young when I was three years old. So, this was going to be something that would have been, at the time, 35 years prior roughly.

Anyway, I looked at the other side of the watch and it said, “God loves you. Dad.” I was like – you know, at the time, I didn’t know that inscription was there.

Catherine Miller: You just missed it.

Shane Bender: How I didn’t know the inscription was there? I never looked at it. It was one of those things where it was given to me. I called my brother up and I was like – because I think he was the one that gave it to me. I was like, “Did you know that inscription was there?” and he goes, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Yeah. My dad wrote – when he was sick, he got that inscription put in there for us. I was like – he’s my older brother and I was like, “Oh, wow.” But I just – it was a very comforting moment and I mean I believe that God speaks to us in different ways in that moment in time to provide comfort.

But over the next few months, I did try a few different things and then I came to the conclusion towards the end of 2015, and after talking with other people that do fractional CFO, which I had never really heard of it, fractional or part-time CFO services.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: And I was like, “Well, that’s a good idea because I’ve worked in those companies. I know they need help.” I like launched in January 2015, and I didn’t have any clients yet. I just started to meet with many different people that had small businesses or that could introduce me to other people and over time I grew my business. It’s a process of getting one client, two clients, three and it snowballed.

Now I work with about seven on a regular basis, ongoing clients, and I do some other consulting that’s more hourly.

Catherine Miller: So I think one of the interesting things to note in that story – and I love that story. It’s really sweet to discover things like the gold watch at just the moment you need it. But that even after that, even though there was comfort there, there wasn’t a straight path. It was – even then, it wasn’t linear to you discovering that this is what I’m going to do because you just said, “I tried two or three different other things and then finally I decided to do this fractional CFO.”

Shane Bender: Well, that’s true. I mean, I don’t think that God gives us the answer right there on a silver platter, but here’s the thing. The next thing I did, I learned a ton about marketing and business development and how to go and talk to strangers, how to do networking that I had never done before.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Shane Bender: And I then was able to take that as I launched my business.

Catherine Miller: Isn’t that cool?

Shane Bender: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: It’s really like a stepping stone.

Shane Bender: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: I think so many times we look at things as failures. We say, “Well, that failed.” But maybe it’s not as much of a failure. I’m sure it feels like a failure at the time or like, “Whoa. I’ve zigged when I should have zagged.” But it’s – a lot of the times, most of the time, if we allow them, they will be teaching in stepping stones for the next thing in life.

Shane Bender: Yes.

Catherine Miller: Right?

Shane Bender: Oh, I totally agree.

Catherine Miller: So here you are, two and a half years later. You’ve launched your business and you’ve written a book.

Shane Bender: Which is another learning experience by far.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Shane Bender: Very – well, just like anything, if it’s hard work. Everything good is hard work, and what I was able to do with the book is one of the first things I started doing, which is very weird for a numbers person. I started doing blogs and just writing and posting those – really just to share about – to educate people.

Catherine Miller: Which, you know is interesting to me that you did blog because I started reading your blogs even before you were a member here because they’re really easy and readable. I do remember thinking, “This is odd that a numbers guy can write.”

Shane Bender: Right.

Catherine Miller: I mean he’s multitalented.

Shane Bender: Well, and just like you were saying before this, that this is the 18th podcast. It took about 50 of those probably before they were halfway decent.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Shane Bender: I think you just get better at it as you do more of it. I’ve written over 100 blogs and then I took a lot of that and different pieces of it and organized it in a different way and a lot of those stories are in the book and then added some more things.

Catherine Miller: So how long did it take you to write this book?

Shane Bender: Well, if you go back to when I started blogging, it’s over two years. But I really started being more intentional about the book in January. But I had already – I mean I knew I was going to write a book before that. I had somebody – after about a year of blogging, a friend of mine said, “Well, you should put this all in a book.” At first, I was thinking, “Oh, just probably like an ebook.” Sort of one of those ebooks you download, lead magnet type things.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: And then I – but I decided to kind of go a little bit bigger than that and actually have a print copy. I have a – well, I have a hardback copy too and there’s a few different versions. I’m even going to work on doing an audiobook for some people.

Catherine Miller: Well, good for you.

Shane Bender: Because I was on audio books too –

Catherine Miller: All the time. So that’s perfect.

Shane Bender: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: OK. So, in this book, you divided it out into four sections. Can you just real quickly tell us your four sections and what a small business owner could expect to get from each of those sections?

Shane Bender: Yeah, that’s a great question. The first part – and I think of it a lot, the analogy of like you’re taking a trip. That’s sort of the way I thought of it. It’s like, well, if you’re going to take a trip, the first – you have to assess where you are and assess where you are today financially. So, the analogy between the trip and your finances kind of go hand in hand.

You really need to understand what your numbers are. What is your mindset about this? You got to talk a lot about that because there are some thoughts that, oh well, this is not important for me to know. I’m not a numbers person or this is – I’m just going to hire somebody to do all of it.

So, you really do. Every business owner needs to know their numbers and you don’t have to know like debits and credits like I said earlier. But you need to know, well, how much – what your kind of revenue run rate – you know, what are you looking to make this year? How will that translate in the profit for you, like profit margin? You know, so understanding how much at the end of the day you’re keeping for your business.

So that’s the first step. But if you take a trip, I want to go back to the trip analogy, then you decide on a destination. So that’s kind of a – you’re starting on a trip and you go somewhere and that’s – at that point in time, what do you have to do? You have to like – well, what are we going to pack? How much money do we need for the trip? Are we going to drive? Are we going to fly? You might look at a map.

There’s a lot of things that you do to get to that destination. Well, financially, what I would do – and this is – a lot of the book points in this direction is to build a working forecast model. Not real complicated. I think saying the word “forecast model” could zone everyone out a little bit. But it’s having that plan, and it’s a working plan. Not something you do one time and you put it on a shelf and never look again, because just like when you’re taking a trip, things happen, you know, and you might have to readjust. So that brings us to the second step to get to that destination and to understand what that is. You know, how much revenue you want to have, how much profit you want to have, how quickly you want to get there.

Then you build that plan and then that brings it to the third part of the book, which is, “How are we going to do that as quickly as possible or as productively as possible?” You know that you want to be this big by three years from now and once again also, I focus a little bit more on, “What are you going to do the rest of this year?” You can have a plan for three years. But what’s more important is, “What are you going to do next month? What are you going to do the rest of this year?” and then you can build off that and adjust on a regular basis.

So, we talked a lot in the third part of the book about how to get there quicker and that a lot has to do with your habits. You know, it has to do with maybe some levels of discipline and consistency and practices, knowing what your strengths are. There’s some – having goals. I mean we’ve – you probably heard people say, “You should have a goal.” If you don’t have one, then how are you going to hit the mark? You don’t really know if you hit your goal.

By having those SMART goals, the specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-bound type goals, you will – you know, you can hit the destination faster.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: And then the – I think the fourth section of the book is – it’s the hardest one to – it’s the hardest one for me to work with business owners because it – I can tell them through bookkeeping and accounting, we can say this is what your numbers are. Through a forecast model, we can put the other forecast model and I can do all kinds of different scenarios. You know, optimistic, medium. You know, conservative scenarios. Then even some of the habits. I mean those are pretty common, but the “assess and adjust” is hard. Assessing would be, OK, we’re going to look at these numbers every month and we’re going to look at how you did actually compared to what you thought you were going to do.

But then when do you adjust? Like, when is this not working out?

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: That’s the hardest part because you have to know when. You have to know why. You have to be able to communicate to your team.

Catherine Miller: Right, which is one of the reasons I liked your book because you had questions at the end of each chapter, a call to action at each chapter. You had mechanic worksheets in the back. So, if you really are serious about trying to assess and make changes, you could do it on your own and there were great things to consider.

It’s a prompt to remind and ask yourself, have I looked at these numbers recently? Have I really evaluated where we are on things? And it’s almost like a daily – a regular diet, right? It’s a regular habit and a diet that you do. One of the chapters that I really love the title is  “Are you acting like a teenager?”

Shane Bender: Is your business acting like a teenager?

Catherine Miller: Is your business acting like a teenager? I’ve been through boys and teenagerhood and girls and teenagerhood. I know how teenagers act. But what were a couple of the things that you’ve seen in your teenagers that caused you to look at some of these businesses thinking, “They’re doing the exact same thing as my teenagers”?

Shane Bender: Yeah. Yeah, that’s – I’m kind of entering teenage land. My –

Catherine Miller: Which is the hardest part.

Shane Bender: I have a 14-year-old boy right now and two 12-year-old boys.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Shane Bender: So, pre-teen and teen – but it – yeah, I mean it was – when I started thinking about it, businesses operate the same way. You know, they might not – right now, getting them to listen to what I say is difficult. I mean I could say something real clear and then –

Catherine Miller: Unless they like what you say.

Shane Bender: Yeah, unless they like what I say. I don’t know how much they like what I have to say. But they – it’s just listening to – and following instructions. I think with businesses, it’s – it’s like we might know what we need to do. But we really just don’t do it or we want to not listen. So that’s one of them.

There’s another one about procrastination. It’s not waiting the last minute. There are so many different ways –

Catherine Miller: Ways that you see them. Is that what you said to your clients? You’re acting like a 13-year-old teenager?

Shane Bender: Well, like with procrastination, it might be like – and I think that we should – you should have consistent meetings to kind of go over the financials and what’s going on. But I’ve had some clients that are like, oh, so many things come up. They never do what needs to be done and it’s really hard for me. I mean it’s very – I think that’s one of the most important things is to have that point to assess. But they just – a lot of things come up.

Catherine Miller: If that’s your business, you should push them to look at the numbers. So, tell me your why. One of the things that you touched on in the book is that you should clearly understand your why. Why are you doing this business? Why did you choose to do this?

Shane Bender: Right.

Catherine Miller: What’s your personal why?

Shane Bender: Well, sometimes I have to go back and read my whys. I actually listed some different reasons why I started my business and some of them are just personal reasons and then others are more like, well, I want businesses – and I work in a couple of non-profits. I kind of include that in the same category because I want them to be successful. You know, I see scenarios where there’s a lot of stress and there’s a lot of chaos and we know a lot of businesses fail. Statistically, it’s well over half. I’ve seen lots of different statistics depending on how many years you go out.

I don’t want that to happen. I know that small businesses lead to even just a lot of more jobs and more opportunities in the economy. The ultimate goal is I just want those businesses to be good financial stewards and I want them to hit their dreams with what they want to accomplish.

Catherine Miller: So, you have a lot in your book on how to do things, habits that need to be put in place. Really more than you can do at one time. There’s a lot in here of things that you can focus on. When you work with a client, do you say to them, “Let’s start here. Here’s your starting point,” and is it always the same starting point for every client?

Shane Bender: Yeah. Well, I mean if somebody wants to work with me and potentially hire me as a part-time CFO, I will do a consultation at that point in time where – and I really need their financials. I ask them for – actually going back 12 to 24 months and by month – because that allows for some analysis of trending of their income statement, of their balance sheet. Hopefully, they have that, enough of that to give to me. If they don’t have it, then I know there are some other issues they have got to solve.

But having that information, I can then sit down with them and provide a pretty good proposal. OK. Here’s the first thing. But just like I was going through those different steps, I almost always start with step one, right? In any business. It’s to assess where they are today and you can – by having those – that 12 months of income statement, 12 months of a balance sheet or – and 24 is even better. I can really see quite a few issues pretty quickly and a lot of times can come to them and say, “I can see you’re overspending in this area. There’s really a lot of inconsistency in your revenue,” or maybe it could be just around cash flow. I mean you’re – you know you have invoices there 120 days past due. There are some ways to consistently improve that and collect better.

Catherine Miller: Right. In general, when you meet with someone, is there one question that you think – this would be a great question for them to know. This is a question that every small business owner should ask me or know the answer to.

Shane Bender: Well, I think that there are a lot of questions. But for the – I mean if you’re in a situation where you just don’t know where your cash is going, I mean I think from a small business standpoint, that’s probably one of the most – it’s the highest priority because when your cash runs out, you’re out of business, right?

Catherine Miller: Exactly.

Shane Bender: So, if you don’t know where it’s going – and you can’t just look at your bank account. Somebody could have paid you in advance. There could be a number of reasons. You could have a big tax bill a month from now. Your bank account is a dangerous thing to use to determine how well you’re doing in your business.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Shane Bender: But then when – I’ve also had the other way around where it’s like they don’t have any money in their bank account. They feel like they’ve got to borrow or open a line of credit or something and they’re like, “But I made so much money last year. I don’t know what happened.” That is – you can’t just look at your income statement.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Shane Bender: You really can’t. There are so many other variables that affect your cash flow.

Catherine Miller: Right. So, to wrap things up here, if someone wanted to get in touch with you, if they think, “It would be so valuable to sit down with Shane Bender for an hour or a couple of hours, just to say, ‘Am I your ideal client? Am I doing OK?’” how would they reach you?

Shane Bender: Well, probably going to the website is the easiest and that’s www.BenderCFO.com and that is how you can find a lot of information about me. Ultimately you could definitely email me, shane@bendercfoservices.com. Those are kind of the best ways to get a hold. But it’s all on the website. So, if you can remember www.BenderCFO.com

Catherine Miller: Then you can be found.

Shane Bender: You can go there.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. And my honest assessment of the book is that if you’re just wanting to begin to get a feel for how Shane works with his clients, but also how easy it is to understand where you are and the importance of what it is, you can get the book. You can go to Amazon. Is that right?

Shane Bender: Yes.

Catherine Miller: Will they be able to go to Amazon and get the book?

Shane Bender: On Amazon, yeah, Forecast Your Future. You can find it that way and then I will be putting links on my website to it, if you can’t find it for some reason on Amazon. But I –

I’m pretty sure if you typed in “Forecast Your Future,” you will find it or Shane Bender.

Catherine Miller: Or Shane Bender. If all else fails, you can contact the LIFT Office and we could put you in contact there. We love having you here and end of September, the book comes out. There’s going to be a grand opening party for the book, I guess.

Shane Bender: Yeah, depending on when this comes out. If it comes out before September 25th.

Catherine Miller: Then you can come to the LIFT Office.

Shane Bender: And you’re welcome to come to – it’s 7:00 to 9:00 PM on the – September 25th is the big launch party.  And the way the publisher was saying it is, you know, “You’re going to have a birthday party for your book.” OK.

Catherine Miller: OK. We’re going to party at the LIFT Office on September 25th.

Shane Bender: Right.

Catherine Miller: So, one question though that I want everyone to hear your answer to is, “Why LIFT? Why did you choose LIFT and what do you like about officing at LIFT?”

Shane Bender: Yeah. I think that it’s really great how you have – you have this podcast. You have different other marketing avenues for small businesses to come in here. It’s very centrally-located here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I mean I had a meeting just the last week where we all kind of came in and from different areas. These were other CFOs that we came together and just met in a conference room. It was very easy. I’m having my book launch party here if you’re open for that. It allows for a lot of different ways for a smaller business to kind to do business.

Catherine Miller: Right, and to play on a bigger field.

Shane Bender: And play on a bigger field, yeah.

Catherine Miller: One of the things I think that is true about our membership here is that we’re diversified. People do lots of different things. But there’s a lot of synergy. There’s a lot of ways for people to connect and do business together and support each other. I had one guy who came in this afternoon and he has been a member here for several years and he was saying how many different people in the office here that – you know, they’ve worked for him or he has done work for them. So –

Shane Bender: Yeah. And I’m a fairly new member, so I’m going to have to meet all of the other members.

Catherine Miller: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. We will make sure you meet them.

Shane Bender: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: So, thanks again for coming.

 

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