How can you structure your business such that you can ensure your profits every day? Profit First is a financial coaching program that helps you set up a cashflow blueprint that helps you gain more clarity and control with your finances. Michael Wark joins Paul Higgins to talk about how this program works. As vCFO and Financial Coach at Bean Ninjas, Michael helps digital agencies grow profitable businesses that make a positive impact in the world. In these uncertain times, it certainly is a plus to cut down on unnecessary expenses, find hidden profits in your business, improve your sales margins, and become profitable today and every day thereafter.
Our guest is someone who worked at a prestigious accounting firm and gained the Chartered Accountant degree. Then he went traveling and worked in the film industry and gave a quite insight into their time there. A few years ago, he left corporate and started working for an amazing bookkeeping company called Bean Ninjas. Shout-out to Meryl Johnston, who supports myself and other members in our community. Our guest helps service-based businesses with deeply understanding their numbers to be more profitable in a sustainable way. It’s something that is incredibly important at any time but certainly now. Why read? How profit first works? What revenue and cost-labors to pool to fund our lifestyle? How to build a team while paying yourself first? He gives you some great resources called The Profit Keep as well. Now, over to Michael Wark from Bean Ninjas.
Welcome, Michael Wark from Bean Ninjas. It’s great to have you on.
Thanks for having me, Paul. It’s great to be here.
You’re a fantastic new member to our community, but I know you also give enormous value around the topic of profit first. Why don’t you tell us something that your family or friends would know about you that we may not?
I played field hockey my whole life. Most people in the professional world probably don’t know about that. My whole family played it and all my brothers and sisters, and I still play it to this day. We’ve had a shortened season because of what’s happened this year 2020, but I’m still playing this year many years later.
If it’s okay to say this, I think you’re the second-best hockey player in our community.
I know we have a very established field occupier in the group.
A good friend, Stewart, a shout out to you. He always says that between he and his wife, there are three gold medals in the family. He was a part of hockey ruse and played in the Olympics. I know you’re a good hockey player, but maybe didn’t have the time to commit to get to those levels. Is that how it worked?Getting paid upfront is a fantastic way to avoid cashflow issues. Click To Tweet
That’s a fantastic achievement making the Olympics. I probably didn’t have the commitment or the skill, but I made a lot of good friends doing it. I learn a lot about teamwork and spent a lot of fun memories traveling around New South Wales. I played in South Africa. When I moved to London and I moved to Amsterdam for a while, I played in the local comps over there. It was a good way to build friends and build a network overseas. It tied me back in many times.
That’s a brilliant thing with sports. I do find that field hockey is a little discriminatory though, because I’m naturally right-handed single and two-handed left. That was one sport I could never play with the back of the stick all the time. I went to Cricket and stayed. You started at Ernst and Young. Was that your first formal accounting gig?
Yes, straight out of uni. I was in order to Ernst & Young for three years.
Then you went into the film industry. Tell us how did that eventually?
That was over in London. I finished up my chartered accountancy here in Sydney and went traveling for a while in South America and then landed in London with the view to get a job. I was open to all ideas and avenues. A job came up at a prestigious film production company over there in the finance team and I jumped at it. It was a great opportunity. It was a fantastic team. I got to go to all the big movie premieres of the films that we released. It was an exciting time to be in a foreign country and have these experiences. It was great.
We see all the front-end of the film industry and all the fame and the fortune that comes with that. What’s it like behind the scenes from a money perspective? Did you make the money that we say at the front-end? Do they make the money at the back-end?
It’s getting hotter and hotter as the years went on. The Tent-pole Films still turn a healthy profit. Your Fast and Furiouses and your Jurassic Parks of the world, and your Star Wars they’re still doing great business. Studios are taking less and less risks and they want more and more shore things. It’s a hard business and it’s cutthroat. If you’re not performing or something doesn’t perform, you have a flop. Your stocks rise and fall with your last performance or your last film that you were involved in. For the staff, the crew, I should say they work hard. It’s ten-hour days minimum, usually twelve. It’s a tough lifestyle, but it’s also a great bunch of people and you have a lot of fun doing it as well. You get to go some cool locations. There are pros and cons but I enjoyed it my time.
From there, you went into Bean Ninjas, is that right? Were there some other jobs in between?
I worked on films as well. I worked on Alien Covenant. I worked on a big one called Gods of Egypt, another one called Unbroken all here in Australia when I moved back. Then I moved to an Aussie TV production company or film production company called Matchbox Pitches. From there, I moved into Bean Ninjas. I was trying to escape that corporate world and then move into something to where I had a bit more of a direct impact in the people I was helping. That’s why I wanted to move into the smaller business, small to medium sized business world and sink my teeth into this area.
We’re going to dive into more in the Build section of exactly what you do now. Suppose you’ve got Bean Ninjas, which you’ve been there for a few years now. You’ve got their support, but you’re also running a venture that’s funded by them as well or they’re a direct investor. Tell us a little bit about how that structure has evolved?
We’ve got an interesting show on this. It came organically. I was happy at Bean Ninjas and working hard. It was more to do with me trying to find where my place was and fitting in what I was good at or what brought me energy with where Bean Ninjas was going. At that stage in Bean Ninjas, I was moving to a team manager role where I was going to be overseeing a portfolio of our recurring bookkeeping clients. That role didn’t have as much hands on contact with clients and it’s probably what I wanted. What I enjoyed was speaking to people on the sales calls, hearing their problems, trying to help them solve them. That’s where over a period of months, we renegotiated this new venture where I could have a bit of equity in the business as well. It gave me more access in a VCFO and a coaching role to try and help clients in a more active way, more hands on. That’s where I am at the moment.
For the change that you’ve made, who have been some of the biggest supporters of you as you’ve gone through this change?
Probably first is Meryl, who I did all the negotiations with and she’s the founder of Bean Ninjas. She was open to the idea and wanting to find something that worked for both Bean Ninjas and myself. That was the biggest one. She’s been a mentor to me along the process as I try and build up this business and move more into the sales and marketing. I joined the community with EUPOL. She’s helped me build those different skillsets that you don’t need because for a long period of my career, it was more just service delivery rather than the sales and marketing. Meryl has been great. Finally, my old man. Shout-out to Harry, my dad and he’s been great. He’s a doctor but he reads the Fin Rev everyday cover-to-cover. He knows a lot about business from his time on Earth. He’s been a great source of advice to me as well.
I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing unless it was for my dad. He had a beautiful Olive grove that we picked for four days. At the start of it I said, “Dad, I’m not happy in corporate. I need to go do something else, protect my health, etc.” At the end of that four days, I need a solution or we need a solution and he’s pivotal in helping me make that change and supports me. The day of recording, it’s his 74th birthday. I don’t think my dad has ever read to one of these but Dad, if you are, happy birthday.
That’s fantastic and nice to hear. It’s my birthday tomorrow. It’s a good time of the year to be born.
My wife, Linda, it’s her 50th on the 26th in Australia. It’s great but unfortunately, due to some of the changes we’ve had here in Victoria, Australia, we can only have five guests, not twenty. I had a lovely party organized and we had to pivot from that. I‘m assuming you can’t have a big shindig either.Make sure you have a healthy business before making the new risky investment. Click To Tweet
No, we’re still under those various restrictions at the moment. I’ve got a small outdoor gathering plan, but nothing too crazy.
We’ve got some wonderful neighbors around, but we’ve got a couple in particular that we cannot trust, plus we want to do the right thing. There are lots of people reading, so I better be careful. We’ll go into the Build section because I’ve already talked a little bit about it. When someone comes to you and says, “Michael, what do you do?” How do you best describe that?
I help service-based businesses and agencies become more profitable and help them grow in a sustainable way. There’s a bunch of tools in the toolkit that can help them do that. I know you mentioned Profit First, which is a cashflow blueprint that helps people bring clarity and control over their finances. We also do other things to help solve a range of problems. Some of the things that I try and help people through is getting their house in order. Setting up for growth or sale and bringing that external view to their accounting and bookkeeping. We look at some profitability questions about what their pricing or what their expenses are and their margins. We also help people with managing their labor costs, then working out the productivity there. I’ve been helping a lot of people with doing cashflow forecasting, which is a hot topic because a lot of people are trying to map out their plan ahead in these uncertain times.
I’ve got a simple view on cashflow forecasting. If you have a retainer-based business and you get your money before you do the service, it helps with a lot of cashflow issues. That’s one of the solutions that I always recommend. That’s the business model we certainly use. What are some other key ways to help improve your cashflow?
Getting paid upfront is 100% a fantastic way to avoid these things. Being on top of your billing, depending on how you’re getting your money from people, if it’s a bigger price, maybe setting up a payment plan for people or negotiating things like that, offering a range of ways for people to pay. Not just direct debit, but giving them a paper or a credit card option is not a handy way to do it. In the process of building out these forecasts with people, it helps you plan ahead to see where those pinches might be. Perhaps you’ve got a couple of down sales months ahead with a big purchase coming up as well. You might need to reassess when you’re going to make that purchase or push it out a little bit. It helps with a lot of strategic decisions.
I must admit, I’ve spent a lot of my time in sales and used to always have that healthy conversation where we’d be too optimistic. They can’t stand it to be too conservative and we meet in the middle. I do have to declare that I did do Accounting at University. I’m a bit of a hidden accountant. I do know my numbers, but I am more optimistic. How do you handle that? Especially we mainly help coaches and consultants. I do hear people that often say, “What’s your success look like for you in twelve months? I’m going to have $1 million in turnover.” I’m looking at the business model and saying that “I don’t think that’s possible.” How do you go about bringing some realism to the numbers?
There’s been no sales person in the world that their predictions haven’t gone up into the right at all times. I always find these big corporate companies doing weeks and weeks of budgeting, but it always looks good. No one ever predicts a loss. Bringing a bit of reality to the numbers involves having getting a little bit more into the detail and seeing what the trend has been previously and then what the logical next steps are. A common conversation I have with people who are having these big goals ahead of these sales targets, I then ask the questions, “What’s it going to take to deliver on those sales? Do we have the staffing required? Do all the trained staff required to deliver this record number of sales we’re predicting in three months’ time?” That starts to put it into a little bit of reality because you start to realize that perhaps this exponential growth isn’t realistic and isn’t productive for the business.
It’s going to put a lot of stress on the business if it does happen because you’re not going to be able to deliver a quality service with the number of staff you have. Starting in reality, but I do 100% love to entertain big, hairy, audacious goals. We do something called Scenario Analysis. We say, “Let’s do a baseline.” Our baseline will be conservative and closer to reality as possible, but we also plan for a best case and also a worst case. You’ve got three different scenarios there in case of things taking off and in case of things take a dive. We do talk through the great sales potential, but it’s not the main cashflow forecast. We still like to entertain those things because that’s what motivates people, but we also have a backup.
One of the hardest things I’ve found when I was in corporate, we had resources. If I wanted to go and put on new people, there was always a budget but if you had a good justification, you could always find money. Money was saved in other areas, especially if you had a good revenue, a strategy. I know even myself running my own business, it’s hard to know when to put on the cost versus when the revenue is going to come in. If you do your marketing, you hire more people, genuinely that’s pre-revenue. What are some tips around how to manage those difficult conversations?
In terms of when to bring on a staff member?
Yes, because someone will say, “I’ll do all these Facebook ads for you or I’ll do all this LinkedIn stuff,” but you normally got to pay for it before the return comes. There’s normally a lag. What’s the advice on the best ways to handle that lag?
Having a healthy business before making the new risky investment is key. Having a net profit margin of 10% or above already. You don’t want to be limping into this new product launch and hoping that will save your business. You need to be running an effective business already. You need to be coming from a position of strength from a cashflow perspective. Don’t commit to any long-term expenses with these new contracts or start to build any huge, expensive products until you’ve tested it in the market. You’ve seen that people are willing to pay for it and you see the price that you’re going to get for it. Do testing rather than making big, bold moves because a lot of people get excited about an idea. They want to think about the sales and marketing and how the landing page is going to look without saying nuts and bolts of people who are willing to exchange cash for it. Launching it incrementally and doing a beta launch possibly and not giving the Facebook ads people a huge budget to go with initially. Test the market slowly, so you haven’t thrown a whole bunch of cash at the wall that if it doesn’t stick, you’ve lost straightaway.
I was always taught that the profit and loss, the P&L, the top of the revenue is always more important than as you work down the tree, so to speak. For most service-based businesses that you work with, what’s the mix of opportunity between new clients versus gaining more revenue from existing?
Over the past months, everyone has been focusing on existing clients. There still have been opportunities out there, but everyone is shoring up. You call it Customer Cost of Acquisition. It does cost you money to bring in new clients into the door and it takes time to onboard them. There’s still a lot of costs associated with winning new work. At the moment, the main focus has been on existing clients. For those bold enough to still be advertising and putting themselves out there, there still seems to be a lot of opportunity.
With the existing, which I agree with you, it’s certainly been the case for me. What are some good strategies you’ve seen to gain more revenue out of existing clients?
It’s been more about maintaining the relationships. I haven’t seen anyone in my orbit at least who’s been aggressively upselling. It’s being there as a trusted partner through troubled times with the ability potentially further down the line to upscale or cross-sell. For example in the accounting world, the job keeper has been going crazy. We’ve been getting a lot of job keeper requests. Some accountants have been trying to charge to help people access this. Whereas others are trying to absorb that cost and help their current clients because they’re their trusted advisor and they know that they’re building loyalty with them. There are many ways to skin a cat and it’s hard to know what’s the correct one.
On a cost-base perspective, as you said labor is the biggest cost-based and most service-based businesses, but there are other costs. What are some areas that you see people can make some good savings on their cost base?Streamline your business and make sure you’re meeting your commitments – to yourself foremost. Click To Tweet
We’ve also been doing a lot of expense reviews over this period. The big one that we say a lot of people forget about is the subscriptions. You set up a recurring, direct debit subscription to a bunch of stuff and you forget about it. It’s eating away at your cashflow on your credit card and you’ve forgotten about it, so look at that, especially ones that perhaps only charge you annually. You completely forget about it and there’s a big hit each year. That’s probably a big one. Labor is definitely a huge one for any service-based businesses and getting people to work possibly two days a week or reducing their hours is big. There’s only so far you can reduce your normal overheads. You can try and renegotiate your rent if you have that and there’s only so far you can go with that. It’s potentially about how you deliver your service or product in a more efficient way and trying to find things like automation, all the things that you talk about on this show, Paul, trying to find those synergies where you’re saving money through efficiencies.
I know that you’ve been part of our community for a little bit. What have been your biggest learning so far from coming in and positioning yourself and finding clients through LinkedIn?
It’s been great to build the discipline to be writing regularly or trying to put out your thoughts in a clear way in a regular basis. That’s been a huge gain for me. There’s also a great mix of people within the group. I’m learning a lot reading everyone else’s posts and seeing what their opinion on leadership and business is. It’s been a real eye-opening experience because it’s got me a lot more active, which is why I joined. I needed that prompt to put myself out there a bit more. I’ve also learned a lot as a result. It’s been good so far.
I know you’re only new in, but there’s this enormous upside. I’ve been fortunate. I had looked back through the numbers and I’ve had a million views from May to December 2019 and still getting 25,000, 29,000 views of posts, which then leads to great opportunities to gain clients. Existing is a focus at the moment, definitely still picking up some new clients. A lot of people build teams, any tips that you’ve seen from your perspective on some key things to help build a good team?
I could probably speak from Bean Ninjas’ experience. A lot of what of the work is done when you’re hiring and finding the right person. Spending the time to make sure that they’re the right cultural fit. We’re a remote business and it’s making sure that they’re also self-driven and can take the ball and run with it. We’re a bookkeeping and accounting business. We need people with technical skills, so we also put them through a whole bunch of tests to make sure that their technical skills are also good. It’s got to be cultural alignment and they’ve also got to have internal motivation with the right technical skills. For me, it’s the cultural thing and the work. You can train the other things that’s important. Hiring people who complement the existing skills, hiring for the role made it, not because they’re a nice person. It has been useful because it all plugs into the bigger picture nicely.
You do a lot of consulting to help people find profitable ways to sustain their business, especially service-based businesses. You do use one of your tools is this Profit First. Give us a quick snapshot on Profit First. I’m sure a lot of you reading now have heard about it, but what’s your view on what Profit First means?
It’s a system to help people build their business up in a sustainable way that sets them up for long-term success. That’s by allocating the correct funds to the correct sections of their business. A lot of people who launch a business are good at delivering that product or they’re good at the one thing, but they haven’t considered all the other areas or the mechanics that their business has that they need to be thinking about. The way Profit First works is that it’s a simple idea. For every hundred dollars you get into the business or you’ve delivered a service, you need to set aside funds for your profit first, hence the name Profit First. It’s building in profitability to your business from the get go. You’re also setting aside funds to pay for your taxes, to pay yourself as the owner. Then what’s left over is what the company has to spend on your operating expenses.
It’s streamlining your business to make sure you’re meeting your commitments, both to the government and to yourself. To put aside funds for profit and then it’s giving you a lane main mindset to only be able to use what’s left over there, which makes you naturally spend less money on expenses. It’s about creating small plates with several different bank accounts to help you save easier. It’s removing the temptation of spending it all sitting in one big one. It’s building in profitability from the get go, which a lot of businesses don’t know until tax time. Most people toil away for twelve months. Then their accountant will tell them at the end what the score was. It gives them a lot more tangible, visual way to see how they’re going. When they’re logged into their banking, they see how they’re going straight away. It’s visual and immediate.
The biggest one I find when I first talk to people and go through their numbers is they’re not paying themselves. The profit for a rainy day for investing back in the business for having three months cashflow in the bank at any one time, those things also aren’t there. They look at the revenue number. I’m doing $20,000 in revenue. I’m like, “What’s falling out from that?” That certainly triggers for me, people that are doing jobs. I could get someone to do $14.20 an hour. Their billable rate is maybe a $100, $200, $300. There are some of the changes. Do you see that as a way of increasing your profit by making sure that you’re allocating your time to the right areas?
Yes, absolutely. Quite often, the owner’s pay or the owner’s wage is going to be the most expensive in the business. You’re at an expensive cost. It can be dangerous to try and manipulate what you’re being paid and think that you’re in bootstrap mode for too long, because it might be hiding an incorrect business model. You might have your prices set incorrectly. You might be having way too high expenses, but because you’re hiding this lack of good structure by not paying yourself and the business still appears to be making a profit, it’s not reality. If you try and sell that business to an investor, they’d laugh at it because you’ve got all the things wrong. What Profit First does is it helps you put that into focus and balance it a lot more clearly. Then you start to have those conversations saying, “I’m in the wrong role here. I need to hire.” The owner wears many hats to begin with, but then you need to hire to remove yourself from those certain areas of the business and only pay yourself for the role that you’re performing rather than stripping the business of all the money that it possibly can give you.
It’s a huge risk because a lot of people put all their time and effort into an asset that they might not be able to sell. If something happens to them like for me with my health, I set the model up that I could continue it, but let’s say it stopped. I need to be pulling cash out of the business to put into other assets that aren’t relying upon just you. If that’s you at the moment and you haven’t got a handle on your numbers, please I’ll give you some details and find Michael. He can give you some help. Before we go into the Live section, I’d like to show you how to get three to five new clients a month on LinkedIn by spending 30 minutes a day. If you don’t know where to start and have limited marketing funds. You can go to BLGClick.com and watch a pre-recorded free masterclass. You’ll learn the three steps.
One, the secret formula ten times your views and be an authority on LinkedIn. Two, the seven killer elements to get 50 likes and twenty comments on every post. Three, the scripts to get 80% response rate to your LinkedIn messages. Go to BLGClick.com and watch my free pre-recorded masterclass. As we spoke, a lot of the activities that can be done by a virtual assistant. If you don’t have one and you’d like to learn more, you can also go to BuildLiveGive.com/va, and we’ve got some great resources there. The next section will be the Live section. What are some of the daily habits that make you successful?
I went through a big learning curve going from corporate structured, into remote work working for myself. There was a huge learning curve here about how to set yourself up for success in a day when you’re self-driven. I’ve tried a whole bunch. I’ve read a bunch of books, I’m sure you’re aware of, but the ones that I have stuck for me is getting up and making my bed. I know that sounds weird, but I remember hearing Moraine talk about it. That helps give me my first win. I still drink a big glass of water immediately when I get up and getting moving each morning, doing some exercise even if it’s light, help me set up the day for a win. Those are the main ones that I do consistently. Meditation, I come in and go especially when I’m more stressed or frazzled, I start to go back to it more. That’s still part of the toolkit, but probably not every day.
Ruby, your partner, what you’d like to say to her about the support she’s given you?
Thanks, Ruby, for being there for me. Thanks for helping me become a better person. I hope I make you become a better person every day.
The next section is the Give section. Tell us about a community or a charity that you’re passionate about and why?
I do a little bit of pro bono work for a charity called Testigo Africa. That’s run by a lovely woman named Tracy. It helps indigenous communities in Tanzania. It teaches them permaculture and how to grow a sustainable life over there. I’ve been lucky enough to help them out with some pro bono work, using my financial skills. I’m looking to keep serving them into the future and trying to help do good things over there.If you make a small impact in a few people's lives, that's a win. Click To Tweet
I also have a book called Build Live Give. All my proceeds go to the Purple House, PurpleHouse.org.au to find out more. The last section is the rapid-fire questions. I’ll ask you a couple of questions and get rapid fire responses. The first one is what are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
Get up early. Everything’s easier when you get cracking early on. Schedule everything in your day for your workday not for your weekends. If it’s not in the diary, it probably won’t get done. Use a team. The VA is built around your weaknesses, be aware of what your strengths are and build around them to try and create a real strong team.
What’s an essential piece of tech that you use to run your business?
I’m on Slack a hell of a lot, but the Google Suite is what I live on. Gmail and calendars and stuff like that, that’s probably the big, main one we use. In Bean Ninja, we also use something called Rock for our project management.
I’m sure you use a little bit of Xero as well in there.
Yes, we are the bookkeeping partner. We wrap it on about Xero way too much, but of course we’re Xero specialists. That’s what we do.
What’s the best source of new ideas for you?
The news, I try and read the Fin Rev for what’s going on in the business world. I’ve been learning a hell of a lot being part of the community and reading about what’s happening on LinkedIn as well. I also like to read hardback novels to try and get away from screens a little bit. That’s also a nice source of new ideas for me.
A big shout-out to Harry as well. I know it gives you plenty of ideas as well from before. The last question is a big one. I always leave it to the end for that reason, but what impact do you want to leave on the world?
If you make a small dent and make a small impact in a few people’s lives, that’s a win. All I’m doing is looking to help small businesses grow and make a positive impact in their own local communities. Hopefully, that umbrella is out. I believe in the butterfly effect that small impacts to a lot of people will help spread that and I’ll pass it down and down. I want to help the small businesses make a positive impact in their community.
If you don’t know your finances well and it’s something you’ve been hiding. COVID has shone the light on everyone. It doesn’t matter what you do, but if you’re in particular a coach and consultant, you’ve been hit in some shape or form, it’s good to know your numbers so that you can have a clear strategy moving forward. I highly recommend talking to Michael and you can see him on his LinkedIn. You can also see the great posts and the content that he’s been putting out with the help of our community. He’s given some resources as well, some books, some cheat sheets and some other great resources. Just go to BeanNinjas.com/ProfitKit. Michael, it’s fantastic having you in the community. You’re a giver by heart and you’re also doing something, which I think is important to help other people contribute to the world. If they know their numbers and they feel safe and they can invest in their business and their businesses to help others, that butterfly effect happens. Michael, it’s great to have you on the show.
Thanks a lot, Paul. Thanks for having me.
I enjoy that interview with Michael. He’s got a light back approach. He’s brilliant when it comes to numbers. He has certainly helped me and he is helping other people in our community. I’d love to know what is your biggest takeaway from Michael? Please share it on your socials and mention Michael. If you believe someone you know would benefit from the show, please share. You can learn the three steps to finally convert your ideal clients on LinkedIn in a free pre-recorded masterclass. Go to BLGClick.com. Please take action to build your business and your lifestyle. Stay well.
Michael is passionate about helping Digital Agencies level up their approach to finances and growing profitable businesses that make a positive impact in the world.
He helps his clients set clear goals, improve their cash flows, find hidden profits in their business, and plan for future growth.
If you want to break through all the noise on LinkedIn and reach your ideal client without creating loads of content or breaking the bank on ads – go to blgclick.com to learn our three secrets.