Phil: Surround yourself with people you trust and understand that you have to rely on them for financial guidance. The broader the team and the more diverse their perspectives, the better! I think having the right partners in the right seats and building a strong finance organization is imperative.
Josh: The last one would be knowing your North Star and where you’re headed and, you know, having that really clear for you so that you know what you’re navigating towards.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. A time of high inflation, a recession, or unemployment, can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate financial stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, business leaders, and financial experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating financial stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Josh Notes and Phil Maffei, Managing Partners of Sustain A Business.
Josh Notes: Devoted to achieving true sustainability in regards to the way we use, produce, and store energy. Notes helps the Industry navigate the evolving small business, smart grid, and power markets arena. Understanding the essential elements of owning and operating a business, and looking to solve problems by leveraging emerging technology, creating a culture of discipline, and getting S**tuff done.
Phil Maffei: Phil Maffei brings over 15 years of strategic finance experience, leading financial teams of global organizations through growth transformations and exit events. He has managed the forecasting of P&Ls in excess of $1B in annual EBITDA and led diligence, integration, and investor relations efforts. His experience also includes the design and implementation of ERP and CPM Systems. In his last role prior to joining SAB, he was the corporate finance process leader during a 2-year, $6B sale process of Dun & Bradstreet.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
Josh: Absolutely, we went to business school, and studied finance together at the University of Maryland, Smith Business School. I went down the entrepreneurial path with serial ventures back to back to back. Some worked, some didn’t and Phil went the corporate finance route doing billion-dollar integrations and mergers and acquisitions. When we decided a few years ago to get back together, I built a small consulting practice using my entrepreneurial instincts, stories, and best practices. We’re able to really improve our offering using Phil’s best practices from corporate America, so that was the launching point and our secret sauce was how we boil down what big businesses’ financial systems and processes do to fit small businesses’ budgets and resources and meet them where they are.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
Josh: In this regard, even though staring at the finances of a small business can be daunting and create fear, it’s incredibly important to look at it.
Phil: I would tell my younger self to do a better job of mitigating financial risk. If I knew then what I know now; how to manage my cash, had my current process for deploying personal capital, I would have stumbled less and saved a few bucks along the way.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
Josh: I would say the first paid advisor that I brought, I had an early venture called ‘greeNEWit.’ The guy was Sean Roddy, who was a CFO and had a background working in the Big Four accounting firms. What he did for us was force us to take ourselves as entrepreneurs more seriously. He gave us a simulated boardroom-like environment without the boardroom pressure. Although in that company, we didn’t end up raising a ton of capital, we got to experience what it was like to report the financials, the ups, the downs, and get grilled with tough analytical questions that forced us to ultimately make better decisions.
Phil: I think in this context, it was probably the last mentor I had in corporate America, Sach Barot. He practiced what he preached, pushed the team hard, and took on the big challenges. I learned a lot over the 10+ years I worked with him and much of it I brought to, Sustain-a-business. Josh and I are smart enough to seek feedback from advisors who can bring fresh perspectives to our business. So, we brought Sach into the fold in an advisory capacity. He’s been there for me throughout my career and he continues to be there for us to bring a public company CFO perspective to our client base. I’m super grateful
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Phil: One of the things we set out to do is implement tools and processes that allow our clients to have the same analytics that big businesses have. So we’ve been exploring some exciting opportunities in that space to do an even better and more efficient job of bringing the FP&A department to a small business.
Josh: I think we’ve gone through an exercise that really forced us to test our own cooking and create our own form of 360 governance. From this sounding board, we kept getting signals that we needed to slim our product down, make more automation, and effectively be able to create a lower-priced product with a higher margin available to a wider audience. It took us almost five months to formulate it and it’s starting to take off. We’ve landed three clients in the past three weeks using this slimmer model. I think we’re really excited to test it out and see how we can help folks who are even earlier in their growth journey to get the critical financial strategic advice that we feel we can provide.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Josh: I would say in a business environment that stress is the delta between what you say you’re going to do and what you can actually possibly accomplish in any period of time.
Phil: I was going to say something similar, the relationship between the things you have to do and the amount of time you have to do them.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
Josh: I think that specifically here in the United States, we don’t do a great job at educating folks and providing transparency as to what it feels like to be in business for yourself and financial intelligence in general. After the honeymoon period wears off, the reality hits, and they haven’t been able to tell themselves a good story about money so they come into entrepreneurship with bad habits or just bad self-talk, and then that goes from a personal world and very quickly perpetuates into their business life.
Phil: I think stress is oftentimes caused by the unfamiliar, especially if the unfamiliar is of significant importance. A lot of people get that “black box” feeling about financial matters, they know they’re important but don’t know how to approach them systematically and digest the information their numbers are telling them. This can and does cause a great deal of stress on business owners and as a result their families. To Josh’s point, it’s a function of education, back in my day, we didn’t have financial education classes in high school. There was no one sitting there teaching you how to do a build-a-budget or things like that. Maybe the random teacher shared a pearl of wisdom here and there, but it wasn’t a part of the regular curriculum.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Josh: I think in small business, one of two things usually plays out. You usually will find that folks start to gain clarity and make rapid decisions and kind of get all of the noise out of the way and just just just drive forward and those folks tend to end up finding a way to be successful and then other folks tend to just get kind of paralyzed by the stress. A lot of times those people make no decision and become a deer in the headlights or just kind of try to push it under the rug, or keep it in their head and not let anybody else know that they feel like they’re drowning and then usually they’ll end up kind of falling into the whirlpool of stress and just getting sucked under, unfortunately.
Phil: I think there’s probably more psychological manifestations of stress than physical ones, sure the physical stuff is there, but I think what Josh hit on is key. The idea is that the more stress there is, your ability to make good, thoughtful decisions goes down. Therefore, your ability to manage stress will dictate how successful you are.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Phil: I think it can be good in so far as it pushes things to resolution at times.. There is an old saying, ‘Pressure busts pipes and it makes diamonds’. How much you can handle depends on what you’re made of. I think no stress whatsoever is probably not a good thing.
Josh: I almost look at it like a digestion thing. If folks know, and they’re aware enough to sense the “why” from which the stress is a signaling to their body, it could be viewed as a good thing because it could be telling you that what you’re doing is not the best sustainable way to accomplish what your ultimate objective is. But I think it all comes down to how you have been trained or how you’ve trained yourself or how your upbringing has trained you to deal with stress. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, tend to kind of show their worst in those environments and maybe that forces them out of business and maybe that’s okay. They have been in business for themselves for a while but because they aren’t cut for what it’s going to end up feeling like along the way as it scales and more money, more problems like the bigger the zero, the more the stress. You might as well figure it out at a lower level before you take it to the next level because it usually doesn’t solve itself without deep introspection.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of a challenging economic time. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate what causes financial stress?
Josh: You may have built bad habits into your business where you’re spending money on things you do not need because you cannot tell yourself a good story about money or have had a good experience personally with money. Otherwise, the business model is usually not sound because they have run with an idea as opposed to allowing the market to speak on what it needs.
Phil: Trying to understand the reality of what’s going on and what the implications are for making financial decisions. You can only control what you can control, right? We can’t control the economy, can’t control what the stock market is going to do, what geopolitical event is on the horizon ready to cause chaos. The nightly news is putting these things in from of our faces every day, so we are aware but this can lead to a feeling of helplessness .… To take back control, even for what you can’t control and the unknown unknowns that come our way, we need to have a methodology to estimate the error bars of our decisions to properly measure outcomes. This way, you can take strategic bets and increase your probability of success.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Or Eliminate Financial Stress?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Surround yourself with people you trust and understand that you have to rely on them for financial guidance. The broader the team and the more diverse their perspectives, the better! I think having the right partners in the right seats and building a strong finance organization is imperative.
- I talk about being organized a lot with our clients. It’s very important to keep your team and yourself organized, especially when it comes to financial information.
- Monitor your cash flow. This is what we preach all day, every day. Have a systematic way to take a look at your financial picture, what’s coming down the pipeline, and the implications of the decisions being made. Your cash flow is the lifeblood of your business.
Josh: All right, so I’m going to take Phil’s #3 and break it into two parts:
- Financially knowing what has happened, historically and recently, financially knowing what is likely to happen in the near future and mid-term.
- The last one would be knowing your North Star and where you’re headed and, you know, having that really clear for you so that you know what you’re navigating towards.
Can you help address some of the potential obstacles that get in the way of implementing your ideas? What can be done to clear the way and remove those roadblocks?
Phil: Analysis paralysis is common when it comes to finances. You overthink things and then by virtue of doing that, you never actually get anything done. When it comes to esoteric ‘finance’ things, it’s easy to get stuck in thought loops. I find that putting my thoughts onto a piece of paper or whiteboard always helps me break free from this roadblock.
Josh: So adding to that, I think and you heard me echo this in some of my answers, I’ve always found that taking concerns about obstacles and trying to put them in a numerical way forces things to become black and white. So, as you have challenges, if you can dictate them or explain them in ‘a, okay, here is actually my concern.’ The concern is we may not make a payroll. My concern is, you know, we’re $10,000 short in cash, now you understand, we have six days. Now you have six days to find $10,001 as opposed to the panic that is ‘we might not make a payroll, we might not make a payroll, we might not make a payroll.’
Thank you for that. We are nearly done. Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
Phil: The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason is one of my all-time favorites. The lessons it teaches changed my life, I’m such a big fan and believer in the message that I give a copy to every intern I work with.
Josh: I have to shout out Ryan Holiday with The Obstacle is the Way. He put in perspective that everybody who’s been great and done anything has had obstacles to get through, and most likely it’s because of those obstacles that they became great.
I listen to a mindfulness app called Waking Up by Sam Harris. Just puts a lot of philosophy in perspective and reminds you of a lot of the things that you have that you take for granted.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Phil: A movement of education around financial literacy, let’s democratize everyone’s ability to be financially capable.
Josh: I don’t know if this is relevant, but I have a sister company that focuses on building the railroad to the renewable revolution of energy so that we can all have all these wonderful, technological gifts, but without the environmental costs that currently we are supporting our energy with. Check out the Energy Artisans on Linked In.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Our website: https://sustain-a-business.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.