Show cover of Beginning Balance

Beginning Balance

Jesse Mecham and Mark Butler teach you how to manage your business cash flow, hone your business model, and not freak out about money.


The Hero's Journey of Customer Service
Mark and Jesse discuss the role of customer service in a business, and how the alignment of customer expecations with the business owner's strengths (or working genius, if you like) is crucial to customer satisfaction and avoiding burnout. Mark shares an example from his virtual CFO business, which was highly profitable but making him miserable as his promise of what he would deliver was out of alignment with the type of work he enjoyed and thrived on. Jesse recounts a months-long ordeal getting his new car repaired, which ended on a good note -- a shop manager that took accountability for the mistakes of the business and personally took steps to re-align his customer service with Jesse's expectations.   Mark Butler The Money School:   YNAB
52:36 6/7/24
What Is Your Working Genius? How to Avoid Frustration and Do the Work You Love
Mark and Jesse discuss Patrick Lencioni's The 6 Types of Working Genius, a book exploring various personality types and the kinds of work most suitable to each. It's more than a personality test however! Lencioni's model assesses people according to their genius, competency, and frustrations in six areas: Wonder: The natural gift of pondering the possibility of greater potential and opportunity in a given situation Invention: The natural gift of creating original and novel ideas and solutions Discernment: The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations Galvanizing: The natural gift of rallying, inspiring and organizing others to take action Enablement: The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project Tenacity: The natural gift of pushing projects or tasks to completion to achieve results   Mark and Jesse share the results of their assessments -- their areas of genius and their areas of frustration -- and how they have seen these things manifest in problems in their own businesses. They also discuss how understanding your genius and frustrations (notice the word frustration is employed, not weakness) helps to focus your efforts where you will be most impactful, and ultimately build better, more effective teams.   The 6 Types of Working Genius Assessment:     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
55:28 5/24/24
Why You Should Be Tracking Your Net Worth
In today's episode, Jesse discusses his net worth tracker, a basic spreadsheet in which he records the balances of his investments and other assets quarterly. For Jesse, net worth is the scorecard of personal finance -- it's a way of keeping track of what direction you are going with your money. However, scorecard is an impersonal way to describe net worth, perhaps even suggests that one's value is tied to net worth. This could not be further from the truth! There's a lot more to a person than their net worth, but net worth does tell an important story about a person's money, and money is a vital part of a person, even if it's not their whole self.   As Mark has observed during his time coaching people to manage their money, people that routinely spend beyond their means -- that is, accrue negative net worth -- have allowed their desire for consumption to exceed their ability to consume. Their net worth represents a person who is out of touch with their tradeoffs. As Mark has mentioend in previous episodes, YNAB is all about making your tradeoffs crystal clear, and learning to love the choices you make to bring your money in alignment with your priorities. In short, learning to love your spending.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
35:36 5/10/24
You Are Money, Money Is You
In today's episode, Mark and Jesse discuss money as a concept, why it exists, and how trade (using money) has created tremendous value for humans throughout history. On the YNAB Podcast, Jesse has spoken about money being far more than a tool, however, and really an extension of one's self -- one's energies and desires. Mark and Jesse then attempt to connect the dots to our modern monetary system, where debt and inflation loom large. What exactly is it about money is essential to human flourishing?   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
50:32 4/26/24
You Need Core Values, Not Strategy
Mark kicks off today's episode with a handful of words, hoping to weave them into a broader discussion: vision, goal, strategy, plan, and tactics. Mark and Jesse discuss how many small business owners look for tactics first, various tasks focused on operations: posting on social media, starting a YouTube channel, building an email list. These may or may not be worthwhile activities -- you really need a strategy to understand the big picture of where the business is going (or needs to go), and then select the activities that will get you there. But even then, strategy is hollow, Mark argues, unless there's a why behind what you do. Unless the company has a clearly defined core identity, it will struggle to adopt a good strategy.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
38:02 4/12/24
Systems: Not as Boring as They Sound!
In today's episdoe, Mark and Jesse discuss the importance of developing good systems, not just in business but in life! Mark shares a recent experience in which his wife left for a few days on a retreat, leaving Mark to handle her usual duties. Mark was faced with a lack of systems in day to day tasks, and enough friction to sit her down after the retreat and have a talk about family systems. Kate agreed, and, within a few weeks, became a systems expert, looking for every avenue she could find to create better processes.   Good systems aren't just for increasing business profit, they're for improving quality of life, relationships, and family harmony too!   The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
32:02 3/29/24
Signs of Success: When Business Growth Plateaus
Mark and Jesse ponder the question -- what do you do when growth slows and the business plateaus? Mark recalls a story about a successful businessperson who failed at several ventures before striking gold, and notes that the "gold" business was never hard. It grew a lot early on, and continued to grow steadily from there. He juxtaposes this result with some of his clients who spend hundreds or even thousands of hours working on a business, yet never really take off. There were signs of sucess early on in the good business, and likewise there were not signs of success in the failed ventures. Looking for signs of success is a good indicator of whether a business has legs or not. If you don't see any, it's a good indicator that your time is spent elsewhere!   Antifragile by Nassim Taleb     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
49:47 3/15/24
Is College Worth It Anymore? Looking for the Value in Education
People have been hemming and hawing over the value proposition of college for years now, and in 2024, the value that a bachelor's degree offers is more questionable than ever. Mark and Jesse, both with teenagers staring down the barrel of college (or not) in the next few years, share their thoughts on the subject. As Jesse argues, the purpose of education is "to learn how to do something, when you don't know how to do something." As Mark points out, the resources for self-education are more prolific than they've ever been, meanwhile critical thinking in school appears to be as low as ever.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
41:52 3/1/24
Strategic Stress: Discussing Morgan Housel's "Same As Ever"
We usually talk about stress as something you need to reduce, or recover from. But there are different types of stress -- good stressors and bad stressors -- and sometimes stress drives us to accomplish things and innovate when we otherwise wouldn't. To that end, Mark and Jesse discuss Morgan Housel's book Same As Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes, in which Housel outlines the way stressors and risk taking drives us to grow achieve new things. Mark also shares a recent story about how the stress of a bookkeeping sprint at work provided the spark for him to write new software to automate a key process in his business, and save a lot of time as a result.   Other books mentioned in this episode: Endurance by Alfred Lansing The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
34:50 2/16/24
New Years Resolutions and Why They're Awesome
Jesse defends the New Years resolution, and offers up of his own resolutions for the year, namely being kind. Mark resolves to try really hard, and be a better friend.   Harvard study on men's happiness (started in 1938!):   Musical interlude courtesy of Kevin MacLeod: "Investigations" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
39:28 2/2/24
Firing Clients: It's Not You, Well...
Mark shares a trend he has become aware of in his business: his highest revenue clients are also his least time-consuming clients, and thus his most profitable clients. On balance, the clients who pay the least under his sliding scale fee structure end up taking the most time to process. This discussion begs the question -- when do you fire a client?   Jesse hashes out some ideas for a new fee structure so that Mark can retain higher-touch clients while incentivizing them to comply with the best practices that make them easier to process. They discuss the importance of focusing on the client's emotional state and how changing their behaviors to comply with Mark's system (such as opening accounts at banks that are easy to query for data, and minimizing the total number of accounts) can bring them value by reducing stress and increasing insight into the trajectory of the business.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
40:38 12/15/23
Diversification... or Distraction?
Mark shares a recent conversation with a client fixated on "diversifying" her business, which to her meant expanding her coaching services from 1-on-1 to group coaching. Diversification is one of those concepts that sounds wise (of course you should diversify!) and is a bedrock concept of investing. However, as Jesse points out, what most people think of as diversifying is really just expanding -- expanding product and service offerings, introducing new price points. The expansion still serves the same market. True diversification is decoupled entirely from the product or service, like using excess earnings to buy Treasury bills. The value of T-bills is independent from the performance of the business.   There is nothing wrong with expansion! It's natural as busineses grow and accumulate more institutional knowledge to seek out new opportunities to leverage that knowledge. But it's not diversification. That prompts Mark and Jesse to ask the question, why? Why do you want to diversify? What's the thought behind the thought? The answer can reveal the true nature of the problem -- maybe the business owner is worried about some risk exposure in the business and is trying to sidestep solving that problem (or perceiving the problem to be bigger than it really is), or perhaps the owner is simply bored and looking for a new problem to solve.   Whatever the answer, before you take steps to diversify your business, understand the why behind the motivation so you don't end up merely distracting yourself from the core business.     Acquired Podcast on Costco:     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
32:18 12/1/23
Joy, Guilt, and Second Guessing: Money Doesn't Have to Stress You Out
Jesse shares a conversation he had with the YNAB executive team about spending (and giving) with joy, and Mark relates how many business owners struggle with this problem. Mark also shares a recent talk with a client agonizing over an upcoming vacation, which he believes will require him to make poor financial decisions. As Mark has coached him through the process of planning for the vacation and saving cash beforehand, he has been able to navigate through his all or nothing feelings -- the idea that you either enjoy life or be financially responsible (at the expense of enjoyment). There is a middle way!   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
27:16 11/17/23
Harness Your Unique Ability: Mark and Jesse Read the Book This Time
Mark and Jesse actually read the book (almost)! After completing most of the book recommended by a listener, 10x Is Easier Than 2x: How World-Class Entrepreneurs Achieve More by Doing Less by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy, Mark and Jesse share their thoughts on organizing your business and your life to harness your "unique ability."    Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
33:24 11/3/23
10x Is Easier Than 2x: Mark and Jesse Discuss a Book They Haven't Read (Yet)
A listener requested Mark and Jesse comment on the book 10x Is Easier Than 2x: How World-Class Entrepreneurs Achieve More by Doing Less by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy -- and they happily oblige! Except... they haven't read the book. Yet. Nevertheless the title is thought provoking, and they debate the merits of growing a business slowly vs growing quickly, as well as the difference between doing it as a startup vs a mature business. Jesse shares his experience 10x'ing YNAB over the years, and how the challenges of the business scaled with his own vision and expectations for the company.     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
38:16 10/20/23
Money Dogma and Hard Work
Mark and Jesse share a snippet of a long conversation about the nature of opportunity cost in budgeting. They broadly divide people into two different personality types: the accumulators who diligently follow the rules of budgeting and amass cash, and the spenders who focus purely on what that cash can buy them -- experiences, memories, mementos, etc.   Both camps face a hard challenge in budgeting. The accumulators may have a lot of cash, but at what cost to their relationships? What opportunities did they miss or forego to continue accumulating wealth? On the other hand, the spenders face a very concrete cost, that is, the money that they spent to acquire the things they wanted. Perhaps they lack financial stability, or safety, as a result of their spending. Either way, the hard work in budgeting really boils down to understanding what cost you bear in your spending decisions. The above examples are the extremes of a spectrum, but wherever you fall on the line, there is a cost to your current behavior, and understanding that cost -- and aligning that cost with your values and priorities in life -- is the key skill to a fruitful financial life.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
20:29 10/6/23
How Mark Gets Things Done: A Tale of Two Time Management Styles
Mark explains his unique system for managing his day to day tasks after years of struggling with ADHD. For Mark, it's all about managing his energy and honoring his mindset in the current moment. If the "dirt pile" calls (his affectionate name for an ongoing earthmoving project in his backyard), then that's what he does, whether or not it's the "best" or most important use of his time in the moment. Over the years, Mark has learned that allowing himself space to indulge in physical tasks often has the benefit of settling his mind and, therefore, putting him in a good headspace to tackle bigger, more stressful business challenges. For Mark, productvitiy follows his headspace.   Jesse, on the other hand, has a very different style for getting things done. Jesse is a man of systems, and he's also a man with a long to-do list. He mentions how in the past he has been called out for letting tasks slip or needing reminders to follow up on things. So for Jesse the priority is making sure that tasks don't live in his head, but are organized in a good system. He likes David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system, which asks a person to first organize and sort through their list of tasks before tackling them. With a good categorization of tasks in place, it becomes easier to execute tasks at the time and place when you can do them, rather than relying on your mind's own reminder system which often reminds you when you can't do anything about the task! Jesse adds a weekly review to his process, to make sure he's working on things that matter -- in business and personal life -- and not avoiding challenging tasks by filing his day with low-level admin work.   The takeaway? People can get things done with very different approaches. One key to figuring out what will work for you is to recognize and honor who you are. As Mark's mentor says, you can't will yourself to be the kind of person who systematically categorizes and organizes tasks if that's who you are by nature. Once you accept that, then you can find the system that works for you.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
57:12 9/22/23
Meetings for Introverts, New Business Books, and Mark Running a 60k?!
Mark and Jesse answer a listener question about how to run more effective meetings, particularly for introvert-heavy groups. Jesse talks about the importance of ice breakers (although you don't have to call them that) and standardized meeting structures across the company. Mark and Jesse also discuss some new books on their reading list, including a book about the keys to longevity.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
38:44 9/8/23
How Much Money Knowledge Do You Need? And the Folly of Future Proofing
Mark poses a question -- how much knowledge about money does someone need? As in, how much time and energy should one devote toward investing, planning for future needs and problems, and other future considerations? Jesse offers some examples of how people often seek assurances, guarantees that their future income (and circumstances) will be safe. The reality, however, is that if you are in business, or even if you are an employee in a business, you are taking risk, and that risk cannot be mitigated to zero.   One takeaway from this conversation is that when you live within your means and create financial cushion in your life, you leave yourself open to take advantage of future opportunities. And as Jesse points out, the personal bleeds into the business. Business IS personal. So the same thing holds true for both the business' balance sheet and the business owner's balance sheet. When there is ample cash on hand and the owners live well within their means, the business can take more risks and take advantage of opportunities that would have been closed otherwise.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
33:15 8/25/23
Charlie Fixes Brakes
Mark provides an update on his son Charlie and his budding mechanic career, and voices some concerns about his continuing to work at the auto shop. Charlie made some good money replacing brakes on a family friend's vehicle, and is considering making the jump to a mobile auto service business (as Mark and Jesse first discussed in Episode 79).   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
29:04 8/11/23
Team Compensation: How to Set Expectations and Avoid Landmines
Mark and Jesse discuss the process of setting compensation, salaries, bonuses, and communicating those effectively to the team. Compensation is a touchy subject. Businesses want to incentivize employees to perform at a high level and reduce turnover by compensating them well. Employees need to feel like they have space to grow their skills and capabilities in the organization, and be compensated accordingly. And many business owners want their employees to be happy and feel fairly compensated, out of care for the people they have grown close to and relied upon to build their business. Therein lies a minefield, however!   Jesse argues that compensation, including salary, benefits, and bonus, carries a lot of information and expectations. Business owners should set compensation based on market rates for a given role, discounted to what the business can afford (both what the business can afford to pay and what amount of turnover the business is willing to accept if they pay significantly under market). Business owners should NEVER compensate out of a sense of charity, generosity or to "share the wealth," epsecially with unplanned bonuses. While these things can seem great in the moment, they can cause serious confusion for employees. Why did I get this? How do I get it again? Should I expect this every year? If I don't get it next year, does that mean I'm performing poorly, or the business is doing poorly? There are many pitfalls to basing compensation on something other than the cold hard facts of market rates and clear job descriptions.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
43:59 7/28/23
Your Next Easiest Dollar
...probably comes from doing more of what you're already doing, not a new venture or even a new product. But Mark and Jesse have talked about digging trenches already. Today they ask the question, is it enough for a business owner to put their head down and just dig more trenches? When do you look around, observe broad trends in your industry, and react to those? It's a balancing act, with risks on both sides of the question.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
42:08 7/14/23
Striving for What? When Enough Is Enough
Mark and Jesse dissect the culture of striving that pervades American society, in businesses and consumers alike. There seems to be a tacit assumption that all business should be about more -- growing more, making more money, etc -- and you don't have to look far to see the same mentality in consumer culture. In fact, it's the heart of the economy! The desire for more is endless, a hole which can never be filled. So, how do you figure out what is enough?   Mark and Jesse have encountered peers struggling with this question, and have noted that limitations can be freeing. If you simply tell yourself that what you have is what you will have forever, you create boundaries and limitations which actually spur creativity and help you figure out what you really want (not just want other people say you should want). Mark uses the house as an example on the consumer side. What if you said to yourself, this house that you are currently in is it -- this is the house you will own and live in until you die. With no possibility for moving in the future, or building something else, you're free to think about what you don't like about your current house, and what you would change. Maybe there are some things that you dream about having in a future house, like a pool, that you discover you are fine without. Or maybe you can't live without one and must find a way to put one in!   It's a useful creative exercise to get closer to answering the question -- how much is enough?     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
32:00 6/30/23
Finding Clarity in Difficult Situations with YNAB
Mark shares a difficult personal situation he and his family have been dealing with, that has signficant financial ramifications. Recently Mark's wife was diagnosed with cancer, and she has undergone chemo treatments and a litany of medical tests. As the medical bills continue to pile up, Mark finds himself having to float tens of thousands of dollars in costs while he waits to be reimbursed by their health sharing plan.   While this can be a very scary proposition, he has found peace and security in the YNAB process. Most importantly, Mark says, YNAB tells him the truth about his financial situation, neither catastrophizing nor softening the ramifications of unexpected large medical bills, and that clarity has been critically important to making good decisions and maintaining sanity.     Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
21:48 6/16/23
Charlie Changes Oil
It's happening! Mark's son is taking the step toward business ownership. His plan is to leave his job at the auto shop behind, and start a mobile oil change business. Mark and Jesse discuss some of the challenges of pricing his service, establishing a recurring revenue model, and marketing to the most influential groups he has access to.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
12:49 6/2/23
A YNAB Success Story (and Taxes)
Jesse shares a recent situation that would have sent shivers through most owners. Following a revision in the tax code regarding software R&D costs, YNAB discovered it would be facing down a huge tax bill, over triple what they anticipated for the year. While this might bankrupt some companies, Jesse and the executive team were able to take the news calmly, and use the company's cash reserves to easily handle the tax bill.   It's a triumph of cash over the unexpected, and a YNAB success story!   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
26:23 5/19/23
It's All Borrowing: Taking Care of Future You
What if all your spending... was actually borrowing? Ok, well not ALL your spending, but those situations in which you pull money from one category of your budget and apply it to another. Jesse gives the example of going to a special dinner at an exclusive restaurant. Reservations are very difficult to get, and you finally get one when someone else cancels -- but it's tonight. And you don't have the cash available in your restaurant category! So you move money from another budget category to cover the expense, because this is your only chance to go to dinner. We all run into these situations from time to time. Maybe it's not a fancy restaurant, but situations arise where you have to spend money now or forego an opportunity forever.   YNAB does a good job of making you aware of the tradeoffs. When you move money from, say, car repairs, to cover the restaurant expense, you must acknowledge that your car repair category is now underfunded, and that you'll have to replace that money later. Essentially, you're saying that "future you" will figure it out and generate the cash needed to replenish that fund. Jesse takes this a step further. Really, even though you "had the money" because it was in your budget, you still borrowed from future you -- because you created a liability which future you must take care of.   You didn't actually take on debt per se -- you didn't charge a credit card or take out a loan -- but you did borrow the money, from yourself. In that sense, everything is borrowing. Mark and Jesse explore the implications of this line of thinking, and how YNAB could better illustrate this concept.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
39:45 5/5/23
What Do You Do When You Get Paid? Profit First
Mark and Jesse answer a question from Beginning Balance listener Allison (thanks for listening Allison!). Allison asks: what do you do when you get paid? How much should you set aside for taxes and retirement savings?   It's a great question, and many business owners struggle with this. Mark and Jesse explain the concept of "profit first" and why the business should pay you first, then take care of bills and expenses. As it turns out, using YNAB makes this process easy to implement in your business, but profit first does require some patience and discipline. Starting with a small percentage of profit (Jesse offers a few ways to calculate a good profit percentage to distribute) and slowly increasing that amount over time keeps you from overreaching and distributing too much money, which you might have to contribute back to the business in the event of unforeseen expenses. A slow and steady approach also gives you time to dial in your budget, and plan for future expenses as well as build up reserves for unforeseen expenses.    Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB  
14:31 4/21/23
The Curse of Skilled Labor on a Small Team
On the previous, Mark shared a recent experience about letting an employee go. Not long after, another team member left for a great opportunity at another company. On a small team like Mark's, the loss of two employees back to back poses a big problem, as the workload gets spread to the remaining employees (a BIG increase) and some institutional knowledge is lost. Even with great systems and documentation, there's always some amount of institutional knowledge lost when an employee leaves, not to mention it takes time for their replacement to get up to speed.   This experience of picking up the slack, including both high and low skill work, got Mark thinking -- the curse of a small team is that skilled labor can leave for better opportunities, in which case the remaining skilled labor ends up doing a blend of low and high skill work. Ultimately, the business ends up paying skilled wages for work which is not entirely skilled, cutting into margins.   With this new revelation, Mark describes his plan for moving all low skill tasks in his business to lower skilled, lower wage employees, and why it's critical that businesses strive for this efficiency.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
27:12 4/7/23
Letting Someone Go
It's not a fun part of the job, but sometimes you have to let employees go. Mark discusses a recent experience, and why, in retrospect, he should have acted much sooner. Jesse shares his thoughts on when, and why, you should let go of team members, when it's clear they aren't a good fit with the organization.   Mark Butler, Virtual CFO The Money School:   YNAB
27:38 3/24/23

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