How Marilyn Teaches Small Businesses Big CFO Skills
Updated: May 21
We recently sat down to chat with Marilyn Landis, President & CEO of Basic Business Concepts and former Chair of the National Small Business Association. From providing business owners CFO services to advocating for small businesses in Congress, Marilyn has dedicated her career to helping small businesses grow.
Marilyn also introduced us to Mark Ganem, the owner of Vico Restaurant and Bar in Hudson, NY. Vico Restaurant ran a Honeycomb campaign to raise $40,000 to refinance high-interest debt and fund interior renovations to create an even better farm-to-table Tuscan cuisine experience!
Let's hear from Marilyn about how she worked with Mark to grow his business successfully and why businesses of any size can benefit from the strategic thinking of a CFO.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
To tell you a bit about my background, I spent 30 years as a commercial banker so I’ve seen businesses through many ups and downs in the economy. In my time in banking, I came to see that borrowers rarely understand the concept of working capital. Nineteen years ago, I decided that that expertise around working capital and finance should be on the other side of the table so I left banking and started Basic Business Concepts. We provide on-demand CFO services, covering every industry and almost every facet of the financial needs of a small business.
When you say CFO, I think of corporations and tech companies. Why would small businesses need a CFO?
Most people believe that accountants and CFOs are one and the same, but that is not the case. The accountant studies history, and often is not a risk taker. The CFO is the risk taker in the financial world. Growing your business is always risky but a CFO looks to mitigate those risks.
If a business owner gets to a stage where they’re growing, it’s because they're doing something right. But finance is rarely what they're good at. When clients need to know what the cost of a job is, to understand their pricing, to project out what their cash flow is going to be in the future, to decide how to fund growth, to figure out how that debt should be structured - that’s when they need a CFO.
How did you meet Mark of Vico Restaurant? How did you two start working together?
Mark, in addition to being a good chef, is also a freelance writer in the finance industry. He had been interviewing me frequently for articles that he would write.
Mark and I started working together when he realized, "I have these shortfalls that come up occasionally in the business and I need to plan better for that. Wait - why don't I hire Marilyn for my own business?”
The first thing we do with a client is evaluate the business. We went through that process with Mark and identified some things that could really help him grow his business more cost-effectively without skipping on quality. He's brilliant at what he does. I couldn't tell him how to run his business, but I could point out the areas and the metrics that he needed to watch and he went to work on it.
Within a quarter, he'd gotten his team involved and they had hit every target he had set. At that point, he was ready to get the rest of the financial pieces together. That's when we talked about the need to borrow now that he had his company on a strong financial footing.
Before he started working with me, Mark had taken out this high interest debt that was preventing him from moving forward. He had expressed an interest in being more responsive to his community - whether that was a building out a patio or planning special events. Being able to borrow and refinance his old debt became a game changer for him. So instead of having to go from crisis to crisis to crisis, he's now focusing on moving forward with the business and responding to his customers. That's exactly why Honeycomb was perfect for him.
What advice would you give small businesses who want to see growth? What's the secret sauce to growing a business?
First of all, you need to fully understand the risks and have a way of managing it. The best way to do that is to get down to the facts. I believe financial analysis is the underpinning of managing risk. Another challenge for small businesses is if they've never considered outsourcing. You can now outsource anything you can imagine. Small businesses getting ready to grow should outsource everything except their core competency. Outsourcing enables businesses to grow without overtaxing their core competencies. Of course, I should be one of those outsources!
Why is working with small businesses so important to you?
When I work with small businesses, I'm calling on the person who's put his family reputation on the line, put all of his savings on the line. He or she is taking all this risk, so I had better be right - because they are trusting me. I have such great respect for the courage it's taken these entrepreneurs to do what they do. I've watched how much they care about their employees, the families of their employees and the incredible things they do. It’s just incredible to work with these people.
Know of a business looking for CFO expertise? They can reach Marilyn at www.basicbusiness.biz.
Know of a business that would benefit from funding their growth by borrowing from their biggest fans? Check out our referral program.