Rocks in the river

“Why are you fighting me?” I asked.  I’m not doing a lot of consulting work these days.  I am working with our franchisees at ZOOM DRAIN and also expanding my online business … new products, podcasts, video programs and speaking. Very exciting!  Not long ago a good friend asked if I would take him on as a consulting client. I turned him down. And he persisted.  

“I’m ready, Ellen, to clean up the mess we’ve made of our financials,” he said. “Please, will you help me?”  

“OK. My only condition is that you allow me to help you. You’ve got to follow my lead and take action. You see, I know this process always works if you work it. I just don’t want to waste time and money if you aren’t all in. I can’t make you do this. You have to really want to do this. Do we have a deal?”  

“Deal,” he promised.  

Alas. At our first meeting, he showed up 40 minutes late. 

“So sorry!  I had an emergency with one of the guys,” he said.  

At the next meeting, I was reviewing his financials with him, line by line, and creating an action plan for getting the balances fixed.  With every suggestion, he came up with a reason why it was either impossible, or not important.

“Why are you fighting me?” I asked.  

“Well, I am discouraged. Look how many accounts are just wrong. I had no idea that the financials were this bad,” he explained.

“It’s all fixable,” I assured him. “We are on the path to the outcome you want … simple, current, accurate and comprehensive financial reports. These reports allow you to make great decisions based on the data. We can get there from here. Why are you fighting this process?”  

He started to heat up, “You know, I have paid a lot of people a lot of money to do my accounting for me. I’ve been told that, as a manager, it’s important to surround yourself with good people, professionals who can do the things you can’t do, or don’t have the time to do. It isn’t right that this is still such a mess.”  

Ah. Now I was getting the truth of it. A rock of resistance in the river of redemption.  

“Understood. It would be great if you weren’t in this position. You just are. So far, we can see that you have a sizable amount of debt," I said. "We aren’t quite sure how much, because there are too many goofy numbers.  If you want to get out of debt, make more money, and improve the score, we start with where we are now … and don’t fuss too much about the water under the bridge.”  

He settled down. We mapped out our next steps and homework assignments for him and his bookkeeper.  It was a really good meeting. Or, so I thought. The next week, we hit another rock.  

“My bookkeeper doesn’t want to work with you anymore. She says she can fix the accounting," he told me. "She’s been busy and hasn’t been able to get it caught up. But she promised that she can do it on her own.”  

I offered, “Let’s consider that the last time the bank statement was reconciled was March of 2013. You wouldn’t have called for help if you didn’t need some. We could sit down and address her concerns.”  

Oh, heavens. I got out of the river. I wished him well and encouraged him to build on his understanding and stay true to his desired outcome: known, current, accurate and comprehensive financials. All do-able …without me. However, he seems to be clinging to the rocks of resistance.  

What about you? Can you relate to my friend? Are you still struggling with the financial area of your business? I’ve learned a few things, having guided thousands of business owners down the river. Here are my top tips for reducing resistance and mastering the financials.

Get clear on what you want. Do you want to operate with your head in the sand? Do you enjoy worrying about how you are going to cover payroll? Is it rewarding to guess at how much debt you really have? I thought not. It’s your money, which means it’s your responsibility to know where it is and where it goes. As the owner, you are the financial manager. 

Don’t let anyone on your team place rocks in the river. In my career, I have worked with lots of accountants, controllers and bookkeepers. The best ones are committed to helping the owner become a good financial steward. Set blame and frustration aside and work together to get the books current and accurate. Establish due dates for digging in and fixing all account balances and creating new data entry procedures. Root out the fear as you work elbow to elbow. Some bookkeepers are protective of the owners, and overreact to outside help. Some are threatened, and think that if the job is streamlined, they may be downsized. Some are afraid of being “found out” as not being as adequately skilled, or even doing shady things.  Your commitment to understanding the financials keeps you from being held hostage — or ripped off — and will protect your bookkeeper. Do what you can to reduce the resistance. When you work together you both get smarter.  

It’s a course of study. You’ll need more than one "Financials for Dummies" webinar or YouTube video on double entry accounting. Books, articles, videos, and webinars can be of terrific value. Your bookkeeper and accountant can be super helpful when it comes to de-mystifying the numbers.

And, you may save some frustration by hiring a consultant. But you still have to learn it. At least well enough to know what you are looking at and determine if it’s right.  But, it’s not an endless course of study. For instance, golf is an endless course of study. The game will challenge you the rest of your life should you decide to study golf. Accounting, not so much. There are about a dozen transactions to figure out. Money in. Money out. Payroll. You’ll need your accountant for a few of them, like buying or selling a vehicle. If you drop the resistance, you can figure out your financials in a few months of focused study.   

It’s not mind-boggling in its complexity. The words are weird. The math may be new to you. But there is nothing about accounting and financial reports that you can’t figure out. If you don’t know what something is, or how the numbers are getting in there, ask ask ask until you get a straight-up answer. Business is easy. Once you know the score, then you can consider … is this where you want to be? If so, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, increase profits and cash. Do something that may impact those numbers. Then, look for the results on the financial reports.  

Let go of the rocks … and go with the flow. 

Ellen Rohr provides “in the trenches” insight that business owners can relate to. Comments? Questions? A different view? Reach her at 417-753-1111 or You can also join the Bare Bones Biz community, at, for free tips, problem-solving webinars, money-making tools and lots of love.

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