I was recently corresponding with an acquaintance who is out of work having been laid off due to mismanagement (by others) at his prior company. He has been having trouble finding a new role primarily because potential employers see him as simply an accounting guy and they want someone with a finance background.
I told him that his story sounded very similar to mine. I was also recently laid off and I have also run into a similar but opposite problem finding another financial role. Unlike this individual who is pigeon-holed as an accountant, I am perceived as only a finance person without enough accounting knowledge. I hold the CFA designation and a finance MBA, but not a CPA. And for most CFO roles in this area, having a CPA is a requirement.
That’s one of the reasons I recently started Financial Slacker. Although it’s in the very early stages and I’m still working on setting the direction for the site, I am looking to engage with folks such as this individual and have them share their experiences so not only can others benefit from them, but hopefully they will also learn something new as well.
This is some of the thinking and self-reflection that I went through before starting work on the site in late 2015. And now that I have created an online business, I wanted to document the process, steps, and thinking that has gone into and will continue to go into the business as it evolves and hopefully help someone else wondering how to start a small business.
Do I have the skills to start a business?
As a financial person, there are certain advantages and certain disadvantages that we bring to a start-up. The advantages come in the form of technical skills. We know how to analyze scenarios. We are good at identifying trends and patterns. Once we learn the definitions, concepts such as bounce rate, revenue per thousand impressions, cost per click are all easy for us to calculate.
The greatest disadvantage that finance people bring to a start-up is realism. Having reviewed budgets and forecasts prepared by others for many years, I approach them with a critical eye. More often than not, I have seen the hockey stick projection, whereby a business leader submits a projection with a flat historical trend that suddenly leaps into massive growth in the future.
My question is always, “what makes you think a business that has been flat for a period, will suddenly grow?”
But now that I am the business owner, I am the one looking at a flat historical trend (in fairness there is no operating history which might be even worse) and projecting some level of growth in the future. Of course in my business, there is no one like the old me to say, “what makes you think you can pull this off?”
And because that voice is still in my head, I need to be careful not to either let it get too loud that I stop or to silence it with unrealistic expectations.
What makes a business successful?
I have started other businesses before – both on my own and within the companies that I worked for. I have acquired businesses that were started from nothing. I have seen successes and failures.
What differentiates the successes from the failures?
I would have to say – perseverance. Given enough time, enough hard work, and a willingness to learn and adapt, you can make a business successful. It may not be what you started out with. It may not be as much fun as you hoped. And it may not make the amount of money relative to the time invested that you could make doing something else, but you can make the business work.
This brings us back to Financial Slacker. The idea for this site came to me sometime in the fall of 2015. Having been laid off for a few months after working a grueling schedule of near weekly travel for the prior five or six years, I actually welcomed the break. We spent some time together as a family and I used the time to decompress and start brainstorming on my next opportunity.
As I said, I had started businesses before and really wanted to again. I have also had a passion for all things technical for as long as I can remember. When I was young, my father purchased an Apple IIc. Those that are old enough will remember the machines that pre-dated the Mac. Of course, I wanted to use it to play games, but he wouldn’t let me right away. Instead, he forced me to learn basic programming skills first. Essentially, I had to build my own computer game before he would allow me to buy any.
I bought a book on BASIC and taught myself enough to create a simple text game. Although it was simple, it was enough to get me started. I continued to learn programming as well as word processing, spreadsheet, and database applications through high school. When I was in college, the internet was still in its infancy. Instead of email and blogs, I corresponded with others through text-based news groups. I also continued learning programming languages – Fortran in particular. I spent time creating websites which back then had to be coded directly in HTML.
This continued until I started working in finance. At that point, my focus shifted from building websites and small programs to building spreadsheets. I learned everything there was to know about Excel. At least I thought so until I met the Excel power users at my last company and I realized how much more there was to learn. I built projection models that were very accurate at predicting revenue, expenses, and cash flows.
Even after I started in finance, I still built a few websites, but I wasn’t keeping up with the technology and as such, I struggled to build quality sites.
How to build an online business
Then I discovered WordPress, the platform that Financial Slacker and millions of other sites are built on. For those looking for a quick way to get a site up and running, WordPress is a great solution. The value of WordPress is also in the third-party plug-ins that are available. These make it easy to set up subscriber forms, to create members-only sites, and to manage advertising and analytics.
I will say that even though WordPress is a turn-key solution, unless you have a certain level of technical knowledge and are comfortable in HTML and CSS, you might need some assistance to get your site to look and act exactly as you would like.
Now that I have the site built and have a foundation of different types of content that is representative of the overall tone and direction, I am starting to promote the site. It’s only been about two weeks since I began promotion, but I have already started receiving positive comments. The underlying theme of targeting people who are successful professionally but are looking for guidance in other areas of their life (especially their personal finances) seems to have hit home with folks.
I am now looking to expand the breadth of content, the depth of the analysis, and grow the traffic. One tweak you may notice. If you had read some of the earlier posts, I have gone back and made some small language changes to add long tail keywords to the posts. Most of these early posts are pretty generic and as such they don’t rank high on a Google search. But instead of trying to improve their ranking using high traffic general keywords, I am looking to attract visitors that are more interested in the specifics of the post.
Thanks again for your support and please feel free to comment.