Entrepreneurs starting a new business must often face the reality that they don’t know what they don’t know. In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt talks to Megan Schwan about starting an accounting services company to help small business owners overcome this fear and gain a better understanding of their financial operations. Learn why it’s so important for business owners to understand financial principles like breakeven amounts, as well as tax liabilities, so they can set accurate goals to help the business succeed.
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Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to highlight our local heroes in our community who are champions of important issues affecting us on a national and international scale. So, today we’re going to add to that very important discussion, including talking about how to create and execute a clear vision as you pursue your dreams.
So, today I am so happy that our guest is Megan Schwan. She is a self-made entrepreneur, and she’s the owner of Sidekick Accounting Services. She helps small businesses organize and understand their numbers because understanding your numbers accurately is the key to running a successful business. Did you know that eight out of 10 small businesses fail? And it’s Megan’s goal to provide the keys to defy this statistic. So Megan, welcome to the podcast, and thank you for joining me.
Megan Schwan: Thanks so much, Kandis, for having me. I’m really excited to be a part of the conversation today.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I’m so glad you’re here. So, let’s talk about starting your own business. This past year and during this pandemic, we’ve seen so many people literally have to pivot at a moment’s notice and we’ve seen so many people enter this entrepreneurial business realm. So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe talk about why this topic is so dear to your heart?
Megan Schwan: I am the owner of Sidekick Accounting Services, as you mentioned. We’ve been in business for seven years and I basically started and grew it from the ground up. I didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. I fell into it, if you will.
I had been working two part-time jobs at the time. Was newly married, had two kids, one who was really little and I got laid off of both of my jobs and had to figure out what to do next. I was working as a bookkeeper at a landscaping company, mostly from home and I figured if I could do that, I could probably do it for other businesses. And that’s just how it evolved.
I started my own business. I started reaching out to people and reaching out to people on LinkedIn and slowly but surely it grew. Seven years later, I have a team and we’ve been growing pretty well over the last year even with the pandemic, we’ve been able to help a lot of small businesses make it through this crazy, crazy time.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So, let’s talk about that because as I mentioned earlier, a lot of businesses fail in those first couple of years. So, can you talk about some of the challenges you have encountered when you’re speaking to others about becoming a successful business owner or a successful entrepreneur?
Megan Schwan: There are so many that can be considered challenges, and I think it mostly derives from the fact that people don’t know what they don’t know. When you’re starting a company, there’s so many pieces to it outside of whatever it is you’re doing.
So, I do accounting and a landscaper may do landscaping, but aside from that, there’s a lot of other things that you have to think about as a business owner. You have to think about taxes. You have to think about adding people to your team, whether they’re a contractor or employee. You’ve got to think about advertising and sales and marketing and admin, and all those other pieces that go to it.
And I think that’s usually the biggest challenge for people, is just being able to figure out what are all those pieces? And how to manage them, and then how to plan for them in their business as it’s growing. A lot of people don’t know what the cost of those things are going to be and then if they aren’t taking care of some of the tax-related things, those are things that can come back and bite them in their butt and really make a hard impact on their business.
So, I think those are usually the challenges is just knowing what the foundation is for your business, and then expanding on that. The lack of planning or a lack of preparation can really make it hard to operate a successful business.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: That’s a good point, you need to plan and you need to prepare. So, how do you help your clients set and achieve their goals?
Megan Schwan: So we do one of two ways because we work with both startups and existing businesses. So, when we talk about achieving goals and how that relates to your finances, we can handle it one of two ways.
One, for a startup who doesn’t have any historical information, we would ask that they start thinking about the different parts of the business and start getting an idea of what those costs are going to look like for their business.
So, thinking about how much insurance is going to be, if they have a location, what the rent is going to be, internet, admin services that they’re going to need like a virtual assistant or an employee. What those things are going to cost so that they can start planning around their goals and start figuring out, “Okay, if these are all my fixed costs, what are my minimum sales going to need to look like? And if that’s the case, how am I going to achieve those minimum sales? Or what do I need to be planning for as far as the number of sales in the day or in a week or in a month in order to cover those fixed costs?”
We call that a breakeven. So, figuring out what your breakeven amounts are, can really help with a startup business. That way they have a goal to set, as far as their sales go, to be able to cover those fixed costs.
On the other hand, if you are an existing business, you have historical information. So, you already have the data that you use for the past year to run your business. So, we use that as a foundation to start thinking about, “Okay, if you want to expand, or if you want to move to a bigger location, or if you want to hire an employee, what are the costs associated with that?”
And then the other side of it then is the sales. So what are the sales looking like? But we factor into an additional piece of that and that piece is figuring out what the calculated risk would be, if you will. If I spend 20 hours a week on doing admin tasks and my time actually could be better spent in sales, where I would be getting more clients, I could hire somebody for a fraction of what my time is worth and be able to do that. So, that’s the calculated risk of it is figuring out what those pieces are and then how it relates to your numbers to be able to put together goals that are quantifiable by looking at your numbers.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I think that’s a great example. American Public University has a large number of students in the School of Business, so I love some of the terms that you just talked about because I’m sure that identifies with so many of our listeners. How do you use some of the basic academic practices and theories to define the best strategy in terms of becoming a successful business owner or a successful entrepreneur?
Megan Schwan: Sure. And I think college can be one of those things that, or school in general, can be one of those things that really are life lessons that you can then implement in running a business. Because the same way that you have to set time aside for studying and working on schoolwork, is the same way you have to set time aside in your business to be able to handle those admin tasks.
So, just like we don’t like doing homework and we don’t like writing papers, that’s part of school. A lot of times when it translates into business, you have to do things like your bookkeeping or your taxes or answering emails and all those admin tasks. So, just putting together those practices of the things you have to do for school, the same thing applies to business. There are things that you have to do to business if you want to grow it to that next level.
And so, as far as strategy goes, being able to manage your time is one of the things that I think translates in both arenas. And then also too, like measuring your success. So, when you’re in school, you’re able to measure your success based off of your grades. But you have to start figuring out what the scale is for your business and how you’re going to measure success on that side of things as well.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: In a perfect world, what type of training would be needed to help people become a successful entrepreneur?
Megan Schwan: So many things, right? Goes back to all those different pieces that you have. I really feel, in order to be a good business owner and subsequently a good leader, because even if you’re not leading the masses, you’re probably leading a team in some respects or you’re leading your customers. So, I think being a leader is a really great and really necessary part of being an entrepreneur.
I feel like you have to almost be a lifetime learner to some extent. And I mean, there is tons and tons of information that’s available once you leave school. There are podcasts, such as this one, or books or seminars, webinars, there’s tons and tons of things. I think if you can spend some time each month to focus specifically on professional development and leadership skills, that’s going to help you be a better leader and a better entrepreneur and ultimately a better business owner.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So let me ask you, does every person possess the skills to become a successful entrepreneur?
Megan Schwan: I would have to be honest and say, I don’t believe everybody is created to be an entrepreneur. It takes a special type of mindset and a special type of person to become a business owner or an entrepreneur. However, I think that regardless of where you are, you can still operate like a boss over yourself and over the team or position that you’re in. And so, to an extent, I would say, yes, everybody possesses that skill, but like any other skill, it’s something you have to practice and be intentional about.
And when it comes to being a business owner, I don’t think everybody is meant to be a business owner because it does involve a lot. But on the flip side of that, it’s not everybody can be a leader because then there wouldn’t be anybody following them.
I need my team of employees just as much as they need me as the business owner. And I try to reflect that to my employees and let them know that they are needed in that respect because we can’t have a successful business without a successful team.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I think that is a great point, you need to have leaders and you also need to have followers. So, when it comes to a successful business, how do you get past that first couple of years where most businesses fail? How do you get to the long-term goals of being a successful entrepreneur?
Megan Schwan: I would have to say probably two things. One is that you really have to have grit. There is going to be ups and downs and ebbs and flows and forward moving, and sometimes backward moving in the journey of entrepreneurship. But if you can really dig your heels in and figure out how to keep going and find your why and your passion and a purpose for what you’re doing, that’ll get you through any of those things.
And the other thing that I would say is grace. This is one big thing that I’ve been talking a lot about, because I feel like in this past year, especially with the pandemic and everything changing, sometimes, like you said, an incident where we had to pivot and evolve and adjust, giving ourselves grace is a really big thing.
We’re not going to get everything right. There’s going to be mistakes, but if you can give yourself and your team grace and figure out, “Okay, what can I learn from whatever happened or how can I adjust and be better next time?” those are going to be the things that keep you moving forward instead of keeping you stuck and ultimately leading to failure.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah, that’s a good point, to just have grit and don’t quit and just keep going. I think those are all great words of advice. So, when it comes to goals with your business, do you distinguish between personal goals and professional goals and business goals or are they all one in the same?
Megan Schwan: No, I wouldn’t say that they are one in the same. I mean, I definitely think that your personal life affects your business because it just does. You can almost not separate the two, especially when you’re smaller and you’re just starting out and it’s just you. Whatever happens in your personal life is obviously going to impact your business.
But my goals can be separate, so I can have personal goals like me, my kids, what I want for their future and my future. And then I can have the business, as far as sales and implementation and what our growth is going to look like and what our team members are going to look like. So, those things I think should be separate.
However, they also do correlate. And I think when there’s a little bit of crossover between the two, that’s okay. One goal I have for myself is to get into better health this year. My better health will affect not only me personally, it will also affect my business. If I have reading goals, those will be things that would affect me personally, but also ultimately affect my business as well. So, there is some crossover, but I think there should be some level of separation as well.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: As we begin to wrap up, what are some resources that you have used or provided in the past to help individuals become more aware about becoming a successful entrepreneur or business owner?
Megan Schwan: I have used a variety of resources over the years, but I would have to say one of my favorite resources is Audible because I can listen to books as opposed to reading them. I don’t have a lot of time to do reading, so Audible has been a really great resource.
But also looking at things that are appealing to you, as you’re growing a business there’s going to be lots of aspects. And starting with the things that you enjoy doing, can really help to overshadow some of the drier parts of business ownership.
So, looking at resources like that are really helpful. If there is a topic that comes up that you’re not sure about, those are things that you should look into as well. As a business owner, you should know how every part of your business works, even if you’re not the one executing it. It’s just the thing of responsibility is to be able to know how your business works and how all the ins and outs go. So that’s one resource.
Two, I have one resource that might be good for people: It’s called Your Accounting Sidekick. We have a website, but we also have a free Facebook group with the same name. So, youraccountingsidekick.org is our website, and then the Facebook group is called that as well. And that has free resources for small businesses and startups about their accounting and taxes, because so much of what happens in a business relates back to your numbers. It’s important to be able to understand those.
And a lot of times, when you start digging into the numbers, it starts to bring up other topics that you need to look more into as well. So, as you’re growing, you might not know a lot about sales, but when you got to start talking about sales, so that your numbers add up the right way, then you can dig more into sales conversations. So, it really helps give you a launching pad, if you will, to the other areas of your business when you start focusing on what your numbers mean and how they work in your business.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Well, I think that is great. A free resource for our listeners is always welcomed. So, thank you so much, Megan. Thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on how to start your own business and how to have a successful business. And thank you for joining me for today’s podcast.
Megan Schwan: Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yes, the pleasure was all mine. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. As a reminder, you can learn more about these topics by signing up for American Public University’s bi-monthly newsletter. So, until our next podcast, be well and be safe.