Greg Levine is the Action Now CFO and host of Your Personal CFO Podcast. In this episode, Greg joins Brett Swarts to talk about the importance of understanding the numbers to help businesses maximize revenue and profit and grow. Greg dives into how he became the Action Now CFO, what a fractional CFO entails, and the higher accounting skills needed as a CFO. Learn the importance of having clarity on the numbers as well as the reasons behind their movement to make the proper changes to improve your business.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Taking Action Now: Understanding The Numbers With Greg Levine
Our next guest helps entrepreneurs and business owners who struggle with preparing for taxes and clarifying the profitability of their accounts. He’s an expert in QuickBooks and also known as the Action Now CFO. He’s an accountant by trade and his real focus is helping his clients and customers who are business owners gain financial clarity and rapid business growth. He’s the Founder and Host of Your Personal CFO Podcast and author of Mental Toughness 101: Gained the Edge Over Your Competition Now!. Please welcome, Greg Levine.
Thanks for having me.
Thanks so much for being on the show. You can find Greg at ActionNowCFO.com. Greg, would you give our readers a little bit about your background and your focus?
I’ve worked as an accountant for fifteen years or so. I’ve got to caution you, you did say I’m a CPA, I’m not a CPA, but I have worked as an accountant and multiple accounting roles for quite a while. I’ve worked with many different client types. A lot of real estate and I work with a bunch of other small and medium-sized companies with their accounting work and also as a fractional CFO. I come in around once a month or so and help people strategize, look at their financials and understand where they stand so they can make good strategic decisions moving forward.
It’s needed for the entrepreneur and business owner who many, like myself, tend to go a million miles an hour in 100 different directions. Having someone who can look at your numbers and help you focus on where are the numbers going, how are you strategizing and preparing, how you’re taking advantage of different tax incentives to make sure that this train continues to move forward in a productive way.
With that, before your success as an educator with your podcast with what you do now at Action Now CFO, think back when you were a kid, what kind of gifts were you given and how did that shape how you help others? Those gifts could be your personality traits or the strength that you had as a kid or certain things that helped shape who you are. What gifts were they and how do they help how you shape others?
I hope that I was raised with patience because you need a lot of patience when you’re working with people and numbers. That is something that doesn’t always come easy with people. They don’t always want to want to sit there and analyze their financials. They want to keep going and moving. Sometimes they wonder what you’re doing with their bank statements and sitting there with their accountants with QuickBooks or whatever it is. They want to keep moving and find the next deal, but I try to be there and say, “Why don’t we look at the numbers and what you work on will be more strategically sound and you’ll make better decisions?” Sometimes that patience which hopefully, maybe something that I was given, comes in handy.
Tell me more about that patience. Do you have brothers and sisters growing up?Each change is a conversation. Click To Tweet
Two older sisters.
Were your older sisters, patient or not patient? I want to get a feel for, is this a general Levine family patience or is it, “No, Greg was the one who always more patient?”
Some more patient than others.
The point of this is we’re all given certain gifts by God and by our families. We’re empowered with these gifts and it should be used to help bless others. The gift of patience was a theme. Was it something where your mom or your parents said, “Greg was always a patient kid?” Was that always a theme of you growing up or was this something that you had to develop?
I don’t know. I was pretty laid back growing up. That’s my makeup.
That’s who you are. Most of the time, that’s the truth. For the driving fast entrepreneur, patience is probably one of their least strengths. To compliment them, especially the numbers and the details and having patience is a top quality that I would want in a personal CFO. What’s the most rewarding part of what you do to help others?
What I love to do when I do my fractional part-time interim CFO work, however you want to call it, is having these good conversations with the business owner. We hash out some good ideas, look at their financials and their business in a way that they typically aren’t doing. By having these conversations that bring out things that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise and helps them to grow their businesses in ways they hadn’t been thinking about is a great feeling. It’s something that I’m proud of and I thoroughly enjoy the work.
It’s bringing those a-ha moments or those enlightening parts where you’re showing in the numbers and the strategy. You’re also connecting the two and helping them turn the light bulb on for that part that they weren’t seeing or unaware of. Tell us about this journey. You said you worked with CPAs. You were in that industry and in that world. Tell me about the shift when you said, “This would be a good niche for me given my skillset and knowledge to help people in this way.” Walk me through what got you started of Action Now CFO.
When I decided to go to the accounting route, I want to do something in business and I want a specific trade. Accounting landed in the way that I wanted to go with my career. I got interested in business coaching. I did a certification program in business coaching and I enjoyed it. From there, I was trying to figure out a way to combine my accounting and my coaching skills together into a service. My CFO work is a combination of my accounting and my coaching background. It’s understanding the numbers and helping people to facilitate those thoughts and strategic actions is where the coaching comes in as well. That’s exactly where the company was founded upon. Once I wanted to hone in on that focus and started to bring in clients, that’s how it worked.
Combining coaching with the numbers and consulting all in one and you said, “I want to launch this,” and here you are. Walk me through what a typical client maybe looks like. What are their annual revenues, number of employees and, “Now is a good time to hire someone like yourself to help with that?” Can you give me a good fit for you and what that looks like?
A great fit is somewhere around $1 million in revenue per year, but where it typically comes in is they already have an accountant on staff, but they can’t afford somebody that is let’s say a full-time CFO. They have somebody that gets their financials in check all the time, and they want someone with a little bit higher level of accounting skills to come in once or a few times a month to help them at a higher level to take those numbers and make strategic changes with them.
Give me a couple of examples of those higher-level thoughts or discussions that you’re having that perhaps the clients are coming in and these are the top 1, 2 or 3 where your value surges forward.
The main big thing I like is getting a P&L that is month by month. We look at the month-by-month P&L, which is something that the business owner has not done on their own. When you take that P&L month by month, you get to see the trends and differences. Why is this month like that? Why did this month produce this and why are there changes? We can dive in and look at why the changes happen. By analyzing, the reasons for this, that’s where the magic happens because each change is a conversation. You can take it from there and you can set goals around making sure that whatever was negative, we can change it into a positive and figuring out how we can do that in a sound and methodical method.
You’re taking the month-by-month P&L versus an annual P&L, and digging into the changes and deciphering what went well, what went wrong and how would we either correct or improve. That makes a whole lot of sense to me because it’s more real-time and focused, versus a year at a time.
When you take the P&L at the end of the year, it’s going to do a little bit but it’s not going to be that much. The more you do it, the more change and positive benefit you get out of it. It’s your business. If you don’t know the numbers, it’s not smart. If you’re going to look at it once a year, you’re looking at your bank balance throughout the year, but what does that going to give you? Sure, you’re making a little bit more money here and there, but wouldn’t it be a lot nicer to know exactly why this is happening so you can take it and make even bigger profound changes?
I’ve heard a saying, “When the ‘why’ gets clear and big enough, the ‘how’ gets easy.” That’s part of what you can do with those numbers as you dig in and get the clarity on what’s happening and why they’re going the way they’re going. It can spur motivation and inspiration to do to change the ‘how’ to improve those even more. You look at the numbers is one. Month-to-month numbers is one but what would the second type of thing where you’d say, “You probably need to work on X?”There's always some sort of hole in some sort of process that can be improved in business. Click To Tweet
One thing that I always like to bring up in our conversations is how the operations are moving. A lot of times, that brings out good conversation because there are holes in a flow in the business. Although this isn’t necessarily a financial matter, it develops into one. Something else that I like to talk about is the organizational flow and where there might be holes and where we can improve all the processes in the company. That’s something that I like to bring up as often as possible maybe once every call at least or once a month. I always find that it brings a lot of benefits because there’s always a hole in a process that can be improved.
You’re going the overall operations. You’re looking for any holes that you can plug or anything else you can make smoother. If you could do it the first time or fix an issue that’s slowing things up and make it maybe automated or make it consistent. You don’t have to worry about that again and you can keep moving forward with the bigger picture. Maybe you can share an example. If there are people that you’ve helped out, bringing it to life is good where you could say you help this type of company out that had this much revenue and with your services, they were able to improve X, Y and Z. Do you have any case studies that you could share with us?
One example that stands out for me was when I was working with this one company and they had sent all their accounting work overseas. The people that were doing the accounting work was an absolute disaster, to be honest with you. I can’t remember how many months behind and all the transactions were classified incorrectly. It was a complete mess. I remember coming in there and I had to hire a whole team to get it cleaned up. I remember getting to the point where we were finally steady again was a satisfying example. Getting to that point and seeing the difference in the owners once their financials were back in order, organized and they didn’t have to feel so nervous with their client base was a transformative experience to be a part of that process. It not only transformed the business, but it transformed the lives of the owners because they had financials that were clear. They could function in a positive and normal way, which had been lacking for quite a while as they had these other people doing their books.
They’ve escaped feeling nervous and also got peace of mind as soon as the numbers were cleaned up and were clearer. As much as possible, having predictable tax, income and expenses moving forward are so important. It’s like cleaning out your closet, car or office. You can organize, declutter and get a clear plan that helps free up your brain and energy. The margin inside your brain is what I like to call it. What does all this cost? How do you determine your cost? If someone’s interested and they say, “Greg, I’m interested.” Is it customized based upon their needs or do you have a set fee structure? How does someone pay for this?
It’s $350 for a month of service. When you pay $350, we’ll do a once a month phone call and the client has the ability to get in touch with me throughout the month to help them. It’s not a one-off call. It’s throughout the month service. They pay the $350 and that’s the service. If it’s a little more customized, it’s on an hourly rate. We can come up with the hourly depending on the kind of service that they want.
It’s $350 a month, in general, and they get at least one meeting per month plus access to you. If it’s a little more customized, you might be a little bit different. Let’s shift a little bit here to capital gains tax. Part of the focus of this show is helping people create and preserve more wealth by clarifying capital gains tax deferral options such as the 1031 exchange, Deferred Sales Trust, Delaware, statutory trust and others. Are you helping people when it comes to either reducing taxes or deferring capital gains taxes? Are there any insights or strategies that you like to use?
I like to help them and make sure that they’re optimizing as many deductions as I know that they can use and they’re also optimizing the deductions. That’s my big thing. If their tax strategy is to produce as much as possible, then we’re doing everything we can to make that happen. A lot of times that’s the goal. However, sometimes that’s not the goal. Sometimes they want to show that they’re in the process of selling their business or something and there’s a time when they want to show that the business is being profitable. It depends on the strategy of the business and takes it from there.
Customize is to either do deductions or maximizing revenue and profitability for a sale and exit. You’re helping business owners who are planning to do that. What are some of the top deductions if you’re preparing for a sale? Let’s focus on that side of things because maybe a lot of folks know about the deductions. If you’re preparing for a sale in the next 1 to 3 years, what would be the strategy to maximize the profitability on paper and also in reality? What would you suggest?
What I would suggest is making sure that they are doing their best to bring as much revenue as possible, getting out there and hustling and closing as many sales and making those revenue numbers as high as possible. On the expense side, being pretty tight with their money so the expenses are low, revenues are high and they’re showing that their company is a profitable investment for someone to purchase.
It’s maximizing the NOI, Net Operating Income, and the revenue minus the expenses. Keeping your expenses low is going to give you a higher net operating income, which will increase the purchase price of the business. That’s pretty straightforward. What should every wealth advisor know? I consider you a wealth advisor, especially for the business owner. What about for wealth advisors such as maybe a realtor, financial advisor, commercial real estate broker, syndicator or business broker? What should they know about what you do? For the ones that do work with you, how do they best leverage your service to grow their business?
To best leverage my service is to help them by consistently letting me help them look at their financial statements and making sure that their financial statements are on point. That is where it all lies. If they don’t know their numbers, they’re not going to make good decisions. It’s simple logic, but a lot of people don’t want to follow it. I try to encourage everyone that I’m working with to stay consistent with this whether you have me or you don’t have any with you, stay on this habit. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. I’m also a big fan of a good strategy with savings so you’re not always in a bind.
I come across a lot of business owners that I work with that are not saving at the level that they should be. It’s becoming constant stress on them month in month out. I try to encourage them all that they don’t need to live to the extreme. They need to live to a point where there’s enough buffer that they are able to work and enjoy their work and it’s not that stress every moment to close the next deal or however you’re going to get your next income. Those are some of my advice and I try to encourage my clients to live by it.
Having retained earnings or savings built up, having some margin so you’re not feeling the stress that you have to close a deal or things are tight and practice knowing your numbers on a month-to-month basis and seeing and understanding them because from there, the good wise decisions flow. If you don’t know your numbers, you’re probably missing something and maybe making some foolish decisions.
Greg, how do you stay centered on your values? Also, how do you keep from becoming discouraged? You’re an entrepreneur. You’re working hard and there are lots of challenge and competition. A lot of business owners, business professionals and entrepreneurs would want to know how do you stay centered in your values and how do you keep from becoming discouraged?You have to make sure that your life is not all work. Click To Tweet
Staying centered and you have to have a morning routine. It’s something people talk about all over the place but it does have a big impact on a person’s daily day and life in general. Try to have a sound. In the morning, get yourself in a good state, so you’re ready to take on the day. That’s important. Get your head focused on where everything should be focused on. Also, maybe a journaling exercise. You have to make sure that your life is not all work. You’ve got a whole bunch of other things going on. As far as not getting discouraged with business, you need to know yourself and know exactly how you are going to be successful. Sometimes you can get into a frame of mind, which I know I’ve had before where your mind might be at goals that you’re not achieving but you’re thinking that you’re going to achieve, but in the present, it’s not getting you any results.
I saw this mentioned in various places where you should have daily, whether it’s income goals or a daily goal and chart that goal so you can see what is producing real results. Sometimes you can be fiddling with the website that nobody sees or doing this marketing that is not effective. When in reality, you can be spending that time producing something that’s going to move your business forward opposed to something like a dream that might move forward. Knowing yourself and setting a daily goal that you are at charting to make sure that it’s happening. That’s an important thing.
I can’t help but think of the correlation between knowing your numbers, yourself and what you’re saying there. It says, “If you don’t know yourself and where the values coming from to move your business forward, if you don’t know the numbers and the story that they’re telling, your business is probably going to either stagnate. Also, you might be wasting your energy and time in the wrong places.” I want to thank you for being on the show. Are there any last thoughts for the readers? Also, I want to remind everybody that you can find Greg at ActionNowCFO.com. Why don’t you share your podcasts and where they could find you?
The podcast is called Your Personal CFO. You can find that on the website ActionNowCFO.com. If you want a free no-charge CFO session, hit me up. My email is Greg@ActionNowCFO.com. All I can say is, Brett, you’re quite the host. I appreciate you having me on the show and much success with everything going on.
I appreciate it, Greg. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, story and some of your thoughts with us. I also want to thank our readers. We believe most high net worth individuals and those who help them struggle with clarifying their capital gains tax deferral options. Hopefully, you learned a little bit from Greg and the importance of even before you get to that sale of your business or your property, you’re looking at the numbers. Also, you understand the story that they’re telling you on a month-to-month basis so you can create and preserve more wealth when you do go to sell. Not having a clear plan is the enemy and using a proven tax deferral strategy is the best way to grow your wealth. Until next time. Go make some great things happen with yourself, business and your family. Thanks so much.
- Your Personal CFO Podcast
- Mental Toughness 101: Gained the Edge Over Your Competition Now
About Greg Levine
Thank you for visiting the site. Action Now CFO is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs have financial clarity and growth in their businesses. Working as an Accountant/MBA in multiple industries for the past 14+ years I have been a part of many businesses and have learned what it takes for a business to achieve success. My Part-Time CFO framework for business growth has been tried and tested and I look forward to helping your business achieve the success you desire.