Earlier this month the famous franchise consultant and podcast host, Wes Barefoot, spoke with Top 2 Bottom Business Solutions CEO, Christopher Mallery about outsourcing time consuming tasks. It’s no surprise that a program dedicated to franchise opportunities and creating success systems featured the virtual accounting and bookkeeping services that T2B provides. Below are the links to various podcast platforms and a full transcription of the interview is posted below that.
Please contact Christopher at Top 2 Bottom to request a Roadmap to Accounting Relief today!
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Wes Barefoot: [00:00:00] This is episode number 61 with the Founder and CEO of Top 2 Bottom Business Solutions, Chris Mallory.
Wes: Welcome to the Path 2 Freedom podcast. I’m your host, Wes Barefoot. Where it’s my mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs and existing business owners take control of their lives and create freedom for themselves through business ownership. Each episode, I’ll be exploring the strategies and tactics of other successful entrepreneurs that have created freedom in their own lives while sharing what I’m learning along my own Path 2 Freedom. I’m glad you’re here. Let’s drop in.
Wes: Before we drop into the episode, a quick message from our sponsor, 919 Marketing. I’ve worked with 919 Marketing for years, and there’s no one I trust more with my marketing needs in any of our businesses. I’ve worked with them in our franchise businesses, in my consulting business. I’ve worked with them on the franchisor side, and I love working with 919 because they take the time to listen. They take the time to understand what it is I’m looking to accomplish through my marketing, who I’m trying to reach. Then they help me put a plan together to do just that.
I’ve worked with tons of marketing companies over the years, and too often it’s a one-size-fits-all approach, but not with 919 Marketing. In addition to that, they’ve developed some amazing technology called 919 Insights. Franchising’s first and only AI powered analytics platform. [00:02:00] With 919 Insights in place, 919 Marketing can identify the exact topics that matter to your franchise candidates and provide the specific roadmap to help your brand become the highest ranking and most trusted resource when they’re searching for answers.
If you’re ready to start getting better results from your marketing, and if you want a free demo of 919 Insights, reach out to Graham Chapman at 919-459-8157, or send them an email at [email protected] to schedule your free demo today. Whether you’re a franchisor, a franchisee, or just getting started in your first franchise business, make sure to check out 919 Marketing and tell them Wes Barefoot sent you.
Now, let’s drop into the episode. Hey, what’s up Path 2 Freedom listeners, coming back at you with another fantastic episode. My guest this week is Chris Mallory. Chris is the Founder and CEO of Top 2 Bottom Business Solutions where they specialize in bookkeeping services, and really beyond for their clients. They get into a lot of other services that they offer for their clients. Chris has been helping me and my wife out with a few of our businesses with the bookkeeping. As I’ve gotten to know Chris better, I knew I had to have him on the podcast.
He’s an expert when it comes to helping small businesses outsource critical yet time consuming aspects of their business, such as bookkeeping. He talks about that in this episode. He talks a lot about why it’s important to make sure that you as a business owner are able to spend the majority of your time on things that are going to really move the needle for your business. In most cases, things like bookkeeping are not going to help you move the needle in terms of [00:04:00] being a good use of your time as the business owner.
He talks a lot about being able to scale a business and how outsourcing these types of components of the business are a critical part in being able to do that. He gives some examples of how he’s been able to scale his business, where he’s got clients in 32 states, over 20 employees. In bookkeeping, that’s a business that in many cases, bookkeepers have not scaled their business. They’re a one-man or a one-woman show in many cases.
Chris uses some great examples from his own experience, and also just has some great advice to share with existing small business owners, as well as the aspiring entrepreneurs out there. Really excited to bring this episode to you. Chris is a fantastic guy, and I know you’ll learn a lot from listening to him on this episode. With that, let’s go ahead and drop in with Chris Mallory.
Wes: Chris, welcome to the podcast, man. I appreciate you dropping in with us.
Chris Mallory: Yes. Thank you. Wes, I appreciate you having me on. I know we’ve been talking about it for a while. A little bit about Top 2 Bottom Business Solutions. We do bookkeeping, all different aspects of bookkeeping. It’s a very wide range for small to medium-sized companies. From $100,000 a year companies up to multi-million dollar a year companies. I think what makes us special is we do different things for all of our clients.
It’s based on your business, your process, we don’t try to reinvent the wheel. We’re there to keep you on the yellow brick road. From accounts payable, to accounts receivable, to giving you really good financial statements every month that you can use to guide yourself. That’s our go-to.
Wes: Yes. [00:06:00] I can say as a client, it’s been easy working with you guys, and it’s been, to your point, customizable. There’s been some things where I said, “Hey, could we do this a little bit differently?” No problem. Whereas we’ve worked with other bookkeeping companies in the past in some of our businesses, and it’s been a little more rigid in terms of what they’re willing to do based on what we ask for. It’s such a needed service. We’ll get into more of this later, but I talked to a lot of people that are exploring business ownership.
Sometimes it’s for the first time, sometimes they’ve already owned businesses and they’re just looking to get into another business. The bookkeeping and accounting piece is something that trips most people up. It terrifies most people. Unless they have a background in accounting, it’s like this foreign, I don’t understand it, but I know it’s important kind of concept. People will falter because they’re like, “If I get into business, I have no idea how to do the accounting.” I’m like, “Well, the good news is you don’t need to because there’s companies out there like Chris’ company, Top 2 Bottom, where they’ll come in and handle it for you.”
Even if you do know how to do it, it’s not going to be the best use of your time as an owner. I’m a big fan of what you guys are doing, and really appreciate the help that you’ve given us in our businesses. Talk to us a little bit about how you got started. Where did your entrepreneurial journey start, and when you started that journey, did you have a vision that you would build Top 2 Bottom into what it is today? Maybe before you answer that, tell us a little bit more about the size of your company, where you have offices, because you’ve done a really good job of scaling this into a pretty large operation.
Chris: Yes, excellent. [00:08:00] We currently have two offices. Where we have an office in Wilmington, North Carolina. We have an office in Charlotte. We have clients in 32 different states around the country. We have 24 employees from Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, we have one employee in each of those states, and then everybody else resides in North Carolina between Charlotte and Wilmington. A little bit about where I came from and how we arrived at this moment. I grew up in a household, both parents working, they both ran bowling alleys, which is a very interesting story, but we don’t have time for that.
A bowling alley is a place with multiple different businesses inside of one operation. I grew up getting off the bus, going into the bowling alley and spending my evenings there, doing homework and bowling all the time. I think that started my brain ticking. Like, why does this happen this way, and why does this have to go this way? I spent 15 years in the restaurant retail business and management, and decided about five years before I left that I needed to find a way out. I needed to have more time for my family. That’s where the entrepreneurial business part of me took off.
I got an opportunity with Accurate Payroll and Bookkeeping in Charlotte. I learned the trade, which I’d always been close to. I learned how to sell something, how to take something to market. We started our company in 2017. Then we acquired Accurate Payroll and Bookkeeping in 2019. It’s just been this thing where the more we focus on our team and our people, the faster we grow. [00:10:00] We’ve got a few hundred clients now that we work with on a monthly basis.
Wes: Yes, it’s amazing. I like the connection you made with growing up, spending time in the bowling alleys. I never thought about it this way, but you’re right. Bowling alleys usually have the actual bowling, you’ve got probably a concession stand or whatever you want to call it. An arcade, pool tables, hopefully there’s a bar, because I’m not a good bowler, so I need at least a couple of beers to ease the pain of all the gutter balls that I’m throwing. Yes, you do. You got multiple businesses within that, so that got your wheels turning, spending all the time in the bowling alleys, watching all these different businesses work together to serve the same clients.
That’s pretty interesting. I didn’t know that about your background. You transitioned out of the restaurant and retail space into more of this. I would call it professional services, right? Bookkeeping and accounting. Do you have an education or a background in accounting?
Chris: The background comes from my time in the restaurant business. We had to do very thorough P&L and balance sheet reviews. We had to present to the other top people inside the companies that I worked for. For the few restaurant concepts that I did work for, there’s one specific one that’s an upscale establishment that I started from the beginning. Being a part of that, and then being able to spend five years with Accurate Payroll and Bookkeeping and learning the business is, like I said, it was what brought me from an education level to where I’m at now.
Wes: Yes, you’ve got more of [00:12:00] that real life training and experience versus the classroom experience.
Chris: That’s right.
Wes: I think that’s where real learning happens in the first place. I’m curious. You said you thought for a while before actually transitioning out of the restaurant industry, and then ultimately owning your own business. This was something that you were thinking about for a while. I know, for myself, in our experiences, for literally every person I’ve ever worked with and helped them get into business for themselves, it’s scary. It’s a very scary thought. Especially if you’re leaving a job where you have an employer that is paying you essentially, usually, a guaranteed amount of money at least.
It’s very scary to break ties with that, and say, “Hey, I’m going to go out on my own, and hopefully, I’ll be able to build this business and make the income that I need.” Especially if you have a family. I’m curious what your experience was in the process of making that transition. I imagine there was some fear, some uncertainty, some doubt, what I like to call FUD. Assuming there was, how did you build the confidence that you needed to ultimately take the plunge?
Chris: That’s a fantastic question. I’m going to answer it two different ways. I’m going to say that by far, the most scary thing I did was actually leaving the restaurant business to join this accounting firm. It was not only from a financial perspective, but also it was at a very important stage in my personal life with my wife. It was going from working 90 hours a week, to a regular [00:14:00] job. It’s a culture shock. It is. I didn’t step into it as a business owner. I stepped into it as a bookkeeper. I came to learn the trade.
That was the biggest– Not only that, but it’s a huge financial adjustment to try to make it work and move to another part of the state that I’ve never lived in, and try to make all this work. That was by far the scariest. The second piece of this is when I actually decided to go into business on my own. When I actually decided to split off from Accurate, because we first started Top 2 Bottom Business Solutions, and both companies were still operating. I was growing this company, this company was still going.
What made that scary is that was the first time that I was 100% responsible for myself and my team, but what made me be able to put my head on my pillow at night was I knew that I was doing something good for other people. I was offering an affordable solution to keeping people in business, and helping them scale. As long as I stick true to that, as long as I live and breathe that every day, I’m going to be just fine. The people that work for me, and work with me, we’re all going to be fine. We’re going to keep growing, and that’s it. We’ve been very blessed.
The success has gone far beyond anything I could have imagined to this point. Every day I check myself and I’m like, “Man, what has got me to here, and how do I never let this feeling stop? Helping. How do I never let this go away?”
Wes: I think that’s great. I definitely [00:16:00] believe what you’re saying. The way I think about it is, it doesn’t matter what the business is, what the product or the service is that you’re providing. If you lead, and if you instill this mindset in your team, if you lead by always doing what’s right for the client, what’s in their best interest, and if you’re truly adding value for them, everything else you want in business will follow. The revenue, the profits, the growth, all of that follows taking care of your clients. That’s easy to sit here and say on a podcast like this, because it makes sense. It’s almost common sense, but in reality, in practice, it’s not always the easiest thing.
My wife asked me the other day, she’s like, “Hey, we had a client in one of our businesses. She’s wanting to cancel part of her order.” We take a deposit upfront, because we build custom products, and we have a 72 hour cancellation policy, while she was like a week out. I said, “Well, has her stuff gone into production yet?” No. I said, “Okay, so really, it doesn’t cost us anything if we let her cancel that part of the order, right? We’re not on the hook for the materials until it goes into production.” I said, “I think the right thing to do for the client is let her cancel that part of the order.” We did.
It’s a hard thing to do. That was a substantial amount of revenue on that particular job that just vanished, but it was the right thing to do. Turned out after we went out to actually measure for it, not to get too into the weeds with this, but to make a long story short, because we agreed to do that for the client, she was very, very happy, very appreciative. When our guy went out to install, she actually decided to add another section of the house on that wasn’t included in the original order, [00:18:00] that amounted to more than what the part that she canceled was.
In addition to that, she told her neighbor about how good of an experience she had, and we’re going out to see her neighbor in the next week or so. It can be very hard, and it can feel painful to do the right thing for your client in many cases, but it always pays off in the long run. Even if you can’t directly see the payoff, or if it’s not immediate.
Chris: Yes. No, I agree. That’s a fantastic point. I think to that point, and I’m sure you see this in your business a lot. If you’re doing the right things, you grow without having to dump a lot of money into marketing.
Chris: People, I get leads every week that I work through business owners just like you and others, conversations, and the first thing they start off with is, “I got your name from so-and-so, who works with Robin or Hannah or Heather or Saman–” One of our team members. It always connects back to them. It’s like just the best feeling in the world.
Wes: That’s how we got connected. I think it was our financial advisor that recommended I reach out to you. I’m sure somewhere you could dig up an email from me or a voicemail from me that was like, “Hey, my name is Wes, so-and-so gave me your name and said we should talk.” I definitely didn’t click on a pay-per-click ad, and find you that way. Yes, it’s you take care of the people that you’re serving and it spreads, it grows, it’s organic, and to your point, it feels good.
At what point after you started your bookkeeping career did you have a light bulb moment where you were like, [00:20:00] “Hey, this is cool, but I think I want to go build my own business”? Obviously, you did, since you did do that, but when did that light bulb moment happen, or did you have a sense that you wanted to do that in the beginning, and then you just wanted to get some training first? How did that all transpire?
Chris: I would say that during the first couple years, when I was just doing bookkeeping work, I think it was like a way off distant thought. Then I started doing business development in Wilmington. I was doing bookkeeping work, and I joined a BNI group, I started getting learning, getting to know people, starting to work my way and learn these conversations about how we can help people right off the bat. Listening to their problems, listening to their frustrations.
Somewhere in there, somewhere in that three-year mark, that was when I decided not only do I want to do this for the rest of my life, but I want to eventually do it for myself. The owner of Accurate Payroll and Bookkeeping, he was a few years away from retirement. In my mind, it was like, “Either I’m going to get this, I’m going to either find a way to buy this, or I need to start building my own thing because this is what I want to do.” That’s the moment that it turned.
Wes: Wes here. You may have noticed there’s a franchising theme to this podcast. That’s because franchising has had a massive impact on my life, and it’s the very reason I’m walking my own path to freedom. In fact, one of my companies is a franchise consulting company, where I work with people to help them understand franchising, and determine if it might be a good fit for them. If it is something they want to explore, then I help them navigate the entire investigative process, and ultimately find a franchise business that’s a great match for them.
The fact of the matter is [00:22:00] there are thousands and thousands of franchise businesses out there today, and like anything, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Even out of the many, many great franchise companies, not every one of them would necessarily be a good fit for you. Buying a franchise is a huge decision, and you don’t want to wing it. I’ve helped many people buy franchise businesses over the years, and my wife and have bought and owned franchises today, and we plan to keep investing in franchise businesses.
I love helping people understand this process, and help them find a business that’s going to be a great fit for them and help them accomplish their goals, and ultimately create that freedom in their life that we’re all looking for. The best part of all of this is that my services are free to the people I work with, and while I do love to contribute to charities and other great causes, I’m not a nonprofit. I’m compensated by the franchise companies I work with when I introduce them to someone that ends up becoming one of their franchisees. It’s very similar to real estate, but with franchises.
I have the privilege of working with hundreds and hundreds of the best franchise companies out there across practically every industry. I can be absolutely confident that when I recommend someone to look at a franchise company, I’m introducing them to a very credible and proven company with a solid business model and great support. If you think you might be interested in learning more about franchising, and seeing if it might be right for you, I’d love to speak with you.
Get in touch with me by email at [email protected], path, the number two, frdm.com, and also check out my website at path2frdm.com, spelled the same way, where I’ve got a ton of resources, both franchise and non-franchise related, that will help you start down your own path to freedom. Of course, subscribe to and follow the podcast for more great advice about business ownership. If you know anyone else that might be interested in speaking with me, please share this [00:24:00] podcast with them. Thanks for listening to my shameless [unintelligible 00:24:02], now let’s drop back into the episode.
I’m curious what your thoughts are around how you’ve been able to scale the way that you have. You said you acquired another company that had been around for a while, so I’m sure that played a part in it, but as you said, you’ve got a big team, you’ve got clients in 32 different states, several hundred clients, that you’re doing business with monthly, so this is recurring revenues. That amounts to a pretty substantial business.
I look at the bookkeeping space, and there’s other businesses out there that have scaled the way that you have, but I feel like that space is littered with individuals, or one or two people that provide bookkeeping services and they have like four or five clients. That’s kind of more of what you typically see in that space. What would you say are some of the key things that have helped you scale this business? I know that you’re still in growth mode. I know that where you are today is not anywhere close to where you’ll end up with this business. What are the keys to scalability, in your opinion?
Chris: That’s good. To roll back to the past, again, when I left the restaurant business, I was looking for work-life balance, quality of life, time with my family, not wearing 100 hats, which a restaurant manager is expected to do every day of the week. I don’t want to work from home in off-hours. Obviously, because of COVID, everybody’s got to work from home, [chuckles] but I was trying to find a way away from that, to get out of that.
I found a business that allows me to not only do that for myself and my team, [00:26:00] but also for the people that are– The support system that I was trying to create when I got away from the restaurant business. To talk about scale, remember I’ve said earlier that every day I wake up and I check myself?
Chris: What am I doing? What’s going on? Where am I at? We acquired the other company in October of ’19. I decided very early on last year, right when COVID started, that in order for us to grow, I had to stop doing what I was doing before. I had to check myself. I had to not be the most important person in my business. I had to surround myself with very talented people that could share in the vision. Not just follow my vision, but that would sit at the table with me and be a part of creating it.
A small business owner can’t be too big a part of their own business. It’s in every business development book that you’ll ever read, but it’s true. If you’re sending out invoices, making Facebook posts, then you’re hiring people, and then you’re doing job estimates, and then you actually have to roll your sleeves up and do all the work, how far can you go?
Wes: Not very far.
Chris: Is that what you got into it for? That’d be my question.
Wes: It’s such a good point. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I love how you talk about vision. This is something that you and I have talked a lot about offline, in conversations we’ve had, but having that vision and understanding that you alone can’t make it become a reality. Assuming that vision involves scaling a company to any extent. There’s people out there that have their little sole proprietorships, or whatever you want to call it, and if that’s what they want, [00:28:00] great. If that gives them the quality of life that they want, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Assuming your goal is to build a business that’s larger than just you, you need the vision first, but then to your point, you got to start surrounding yourself with like-minded people, you’ve got to share your vision with them, and then you get their input on the vision. You get everyone balled in, and then you start delegating. I think what you said earlier is a very important point that I want to reiterate because I know we’ve struggled with this in our businesses. I know a lot of other business owners struggle with this. It’s letting go. It’s trusting the people that you’ve brought onto your team to do what you brought them on to do.
As the business owner, especially if you were really building from the ground up, it’s your baby. It can be hard to let go. It can be hard to trust that someone else is going to do as good of a job if not a better job than you. It’s that old mentality, if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself. You’ve got to find ways to get past that and to let go, but it’s not always so easy. Is that something that you’ve struggled with over the years?
Chris: Absolutely. Listen, as a business owner, you’re not always going to make the right choices. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to hire the wrong people. You’re going to have the responsibilities aligned incorrectly. That’s truly what drives most business owners, is to be able to make those decisions. What you can’t do is handicap yourself because you’ve made mistakes. Quite frankly, that just means that you just need to try something different. Go a different route.
You are in a position to shapeshift in any direction that you want to go. [00:30:00] If door A doesn’t work, go through door B. The further that I get away from operational control of my company, the stronger my people become, and the faster that we grow. It’s in every facet of my business. We hired a director of operations last year, which was a massive step for us.
Wes: Yes. She’s great, too.
Chris: She’s been fantastic. The people that we’ve brought on, we’re just in such a better place because I’m not the controller of all.
Wes: Yes, it’s one of those things, man. It’s like, in my experience, it’s hard to bite the bullet and do it. You know it’s something you need to do, like bring on a director of operations and get some stuff off of your plate, and it’s just hard to actually do it. Then once it’s done, you’re like, “Holy crap, why didn’t I do that years ago?” [laughs] Like, “Why did I hold on for so long?” Like in my consulting business, it’s not a big operation. There’s not as many moving parts and pieces, so I’ve always been able to manage everything fairly well, but I finally brought on an admin person to help me out with just some of the stuff that’s not the best use of my time.
The type of stuff that I was sitting up till midnight finishing after the kids have gone to bed, and stuff like that. Literally, I just kicked the can down the road for months, because I was like, “How am I even going to train this person to do the things they need to do? How am I going to get organized to give her what she needs?” Then I finally just banged it all out, and spent one afternoon training her. Now, man, she was handling stuff while I was on a plane last week. I’m like, “Man, I should have done this a year ago. This was crazy”
Chris: Yes. [00:32:00] Part of that vision that you’re hopefully sharing in with your team as you grow is, you have to have a really honest conversation with yourself as a business owner. Where do I want this thing to end? What’s the end point? Once you can define what the end point is, where you want the train to stop for you, then you can work back and say, “Okay, for me to get to this place, what are my choices and options? What do I need to do to scale to that level?”
It’s like you watch these business owners all the time that are climbing the ladder, and then fall down, hit their head, and they come flying back down the ladder again. It’s like, you need to have all the rungs in the ladder so you stop having missing spaces. That’s scale. That’s what it is.
Wes: Yes. It’s a good way to put it. I like that. What’s the vision for Top 2 Bottom?
Chris: The vision for Top 2 Bottom is to continue operational excellence and client engagement. I think we have a really good model here, and the numbers and the results, to this point, have proven it. That small business owners want to work directly with a person. That’s what we offer them. As long as I can continue to hire, train, develop fantastic people on my team, we’ll continue to grow and look for other markets to become a part of.
I don’t necessarily think that I can lay out what three years from now looks like because I’d be changing it every five minutes, but I do know that I know what we’re good at. I know how many clients a month we can take on and be stable, and we’re just going to keep doing it, and we’re going to keep [00:34:00] knocking out of the park and go from there.
Wes: I like it. I think that’s a smart way to answer that question, which is like, “Look, I could try to tell you what this looks like three years from now, but chances are it’s going to change.” I think that’s important because I know this is something I’ve struggled with a little bit over the years. Like I have this big, long-term vision, but how we’re going to get there, that changes a little bit from time to time. I think that’s okay. You got to give yourself some allowance for adjusting the course as long as you still have that main vision that’s your North Star. To get there, the course is going to just have to change a little bit.
COVID is a good example that we didn’t see that coming, forced us all to change course in some form or fashion. I think that’s important. Tell us a little bit, from your perspective, because we’ve talked a lot about scalability, we’ve talked about how in order to do that, as a business owner, you have to delegate, you have to build a team. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have full time employees to handle some of these things that you’re delegating. That’s where a company like Top 2 Bottom comes in.
As I’ve already mentioned, I know this is something that, for whatever reason, bookkeeping terrifies people that are considering getting into business for themselves. Chris, give the people out there that are terrified of bookkeeping, a little bit of comfort, and tell them why it’s so valuable for a company like yours to come in and just take it off their plate.
Chris: Absolutely. Whether it’s a franchise operation, a single unit business that somebody has started on their own, or a larger company that’s [00:36:00] bought up other companies, irregardless of the scenario, successful business owners are, in most cases, they’re using their financials to analyze where they’ve been, and setting goals, even 3, 6, 9, 12 months down the road, five years down the road, for where they want to go. What we offer is starting at the lowest point, and I always use The Wizard of Oz reference, but it’s to keep a client on the yellow brick road.
We’ll take a small company that’s like one or two people, and they’re trying to chart a course forward for growth, and we will deliver them a monthly report stack after we finalize their reconciliations, and we do a balance sheet review and make sure things are where they’re supposed to be. We work for the client, we’re an outsourced employee, basically, for the client. From there, from that baseline, we can scale into taking over your sales tax filings, we can do bill pay for your vendors, we can handle AR and booking deposits, and entering and getting your forecasts, your budgets, into your accounting software.
There’s a whole lot of different ways it can grow, but in the most basic form of what we do, it’s delivering you, by a set time every month, a organized and detailed month-end close on your books. We work between you and your CPA to help get the financials over at the end of the year, and we’ll help keep you in the guardrails and then as you grow, and you want more from us, we [00:38:00] will grow with you.
Wes: I’ll just use my story. We have a couple franchise businesses, as most of the listeners know, and we have a business partner that wears the CFO hat in our businesses. He handles the books for those businesses, but then Kelly and I have LLCs outside of that. That’s what Top 2 Bottom handles for us. Until Chris and I connected, and I hired him, I was trying to keep up with the QuickBooks for all of that myself. Number one, I’m not really trained on QuickBooks, so I didn’t really know what I was doing in the first place. Number two, it was just one of those things that was a to-do on my list, that never got done.
I don’t know if Chris was as directly involved in it, but the poor girl that had to reconcile our books when we first became a client, I need to send her a gift card or something. It was like six months behind, at least, because it was just one of those things. It wasn’t a good use of my time, so it never got done. There was always something more urgent or more pressing to be done, so it just got backlogged. I remember this past year, it was great because I had financial statements to send our CPA when it was tax time.
The year before that, I can remember staying up all night trying to get some sort of a P&L that I could give our CPA. It was literally just hours and hours and hours of playing catch up, going between bank statements and QuickBooks, and it was just a disaster. Let me be an example to those business owners, or aspiring business owners out there, this is something that just let someone that knows what they’re doing, come in, take it off your plate. It’s one of the best uses of [00:40:00] money that you could do, because it’s going to free you up to focus on things that will move the needle in your business, and it’s very affordable too. This is not something that for us comes anywhere close to breaking the bank.
Chris: I appreciate that vote of confidence. We are by all accounts an extremely affordable option. We’re not trying to be a roadblock in growth, quite frankly. We prefer to get the client and as they get better, as they get stronger, as they start to get focused, we’re more focused because they’re in business for themselves, they already have an idea. We can be there with you along the way, and as big a part of it as you would like.
Wes: It’s been great. You mentioned franchising earlier. I know you work with some franchise organizations. Everything I’m talking about here is very prevalent in franchising. What I mean by that is a lot of franchisors actually have it written into their franchise agreement that franchisees are required to work with a bookkeeping company. Sometimes it may just be for year one, sometimes it may be indefinitely, but it’s because the franchisors know- hey, if you’re a business owner, especially if you’re a new business owner starting out trying to build a business, you dicking around on QuickBooks, trying to figure it out is not a good use of your time.
Go get to work building the business, let someone else come in and handle it. It’s not uncommon at all for franchisors to just make it a requirement because for whatever reason, a lot of times, and I’m guilty of this myself, business owners can be short-sighted, like, “I can save a couple hundred bucks a month here if I just do it myself.” If you didn’t have that on your plate, you could probably go out and make a [00:42:00] couple thousand dollars a month with that extra time. It’s like stepping over dollars to pick up nickels. That’s why franchisors just- it’s very common now, require it.
I’m curious, you may not have a good answer for this or have really thought about it much, but you have clients that own franchise businesses, you have clients that don’t own franchise businesses, any difference in your eyes in terms of– I don’t know the best way to even ask the question, but are there any benefits that you see with your franchise clients that maybe some of your non-franchise clients don’t have or even vice versa?
Chris: That’s a really good question. I think I can hit the nail on the head on this one. I’m going to say in most cases, because every business is different. The hundreds of business owners that I interact with on a regular basis and the new ones, whether they’re solopreneurs started on their own, went into the family business, bought a franchise, on their fifth franchise, whatever they’re at, whatever they’re doing, we learn lots of things that are going on. I would say that on average, somebody who buys a franchise, usually you’re already getting- none of this stuff works in every case, you’re getting the marketing backing.
You’ve already got something that has been proven to be successful, maybe not in your market, but in a market. In most cases, you’ve got somebody who’s willing to guide you along the way. They are financially involved in your success because sending you off into the wild [00:44:00] without bookkeeping, without marketing, without- what’s that going to do for their royalty fees? Most of them are getting paid based on your revenue. If I say, “All right, Wes, I want you to take this business and go with it, I’m only going to charge you $10,000 up front, but I’m not going to give you any support,” I look forward to getting my royalties.
Now Wes is out there swimming in the ocean looking for the life raft, because that’s so– A small business owner that starts their own business, a lot of them are very focused in the beginning, but a lot of them are like, “I was a great carpenter, I’m going to start my own woodworking business,” and they start on a woodworking business and then are like, “I’m working twice as hard as I was before, and I’m making the same or less money and I don’t have the benefits from- I don’t understand why I did this.”
Wes: It’s so common, man. A lot of the people I connect with, they’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking I want to get into this type of business.” “Okay, what’s got you thinking that?” “I love it. It’s a passion of mine.” “Good. Have you thought about all the other things you’re going to have to spend time on owning a business that does whatever the widget is, insert whatever.” The carpenter example probably doesn’t enjoy selling, probably doesn’t enjoy invoicing, probably doesn’t enjoy marketing. He likes working with his hands and building stuff out of wood.
Guess what? You might get to spend like 25% of your time doing that if you start your own carpentry business, whereas you get into a business that’s a better fit for you, now you probably have more free time to go do your woodworking or whatever it is that you’re passionate about. That’s a very common thing that I run into. I get it, it’s kind of counterintuitive. A lot of people just start the whole process of deciding how they want to get into business and what type of business they want to get into the wrong way. [00:46:00] I do think you hit the nail on the head with some of the key differences between getting into a franchise business versus starting on your own.
You said it too, it all depends on are you getting in with the right type of franchise? Just because it’s a franchise does not mean that that support and guidance is going to be as dialed in as it should be. There’s thousands and thousands of franchise businesses out there, and just like anything else in life, there’s good, there’s bad, there’s everything in between. When it’s done properly, you’re spot on in terms of some of the advantages. Also, because I know you have some relationships at the franchisor level, where Top 2 Bottom is the required bookkeeping company that franchisees work with.
In my opinion, that’s a good thing if I’m a franchisee versus the franchisor saying, “Hey, you’re required to have a bookkeeper for your first year, but you can use whatever bookkeeper you want to use,” because- a couple reasons. Number one is you’re probably willing to give a better price at the franchisee level because the franchisor’s saying, “Hey, you can handle this for every one of my franchisees,” so you’ve got volume clients where you’re managing the books for the same type of business for them. As a franchisee, I’m probably going to have better pricing under that scenario versus if I just went one off and found a bookkeeping company to handle it for me.
That’s not even the biggest advantage in my opinion, there’s also a lot of value. I think the cumulative data that can come from one company looking at the books for all the franchisees in one system. You can start [00:48:00] to establish benchmarks, because while every franchisee may have the same chart of accounts, because it’s the same business, it doesn’t mean every franchisee performs at the same level. In the franchises, we’re a part of- the one we’ve owned the longest, our P&L looks damn good. I’ve also seen P&Ls from franchisees that look horrible, and there’s like two or three line items where the main differences occur.
If I’m a franchisee, I think it’s very valuable for the franchisor to be able to say, “Hey, you’re looking pretty in line with system averages in all of these areas except for these two. Your cost of goods are a little bit higher than system average, or your marketing cost is a little bit higher than system average. That’s great insight for me to have as a franchise owner, because now I know where I’ve got opportunity to improve and get better. There’s all of this shared learning that can be leveraged when the franchisor is able to work with one company, Top 2 Bottom and say, “Hey, help us identify some trends in all of these franchisees financial statements that we can use to better the entire system.”
I think that’s a huge advantage. Some franchisees look at it as like, oh, they’re encroaching on my rights. They’re telling me who I have to use. As long as the company’s getting it done- if they’re incompetent, then maybe talk to the franchisor about switching companies. For example, one of our franchises, it’s always been in the agreement that the franchisor could ask for this, but they’d never done it until a year ago where now they want us to submit [00:50:00] our balance sheets. No, [unintelligible 00:50:02] our balance sheets, I think just our profit and loss statements at the end of every month.
I had franchisees calling me like, “This is insane,” like, “Why?” I’m like, “Why do you care? Unless you’re doing something shady, why do you care?” I don’t care if they see how much money I’m making. They want me to make as much money as possible. It’s just like you explained, it’s in their best interest, but again, if they are cumulatively looking at all of this data, they can leverage that to help every franchisee in the system. I don’t know. To me, that’s hugely valuable when it’s all done the right way.
Chris: To piggyback on what you’re saying, you step into a franchise role, like you make the decision instead of starting your own thing on the side to go into franchise because, again, there’s a proven commodity here that you’re after. Proven in the sense that the business model works somewhere, and they’ve gone through and hit their head on things already and they’ve found ways to resolve them so that we don’t have to do it again. Why would you- teaching your kids, why would you not want me to coach you on what your sister has been hitting her head on for the last five years? You know what I’m saying?
Chris: It’s looking at your financials and reviewing them for past performance and equally for future planning. Imagine how much stronger it is when you can look at 100 franchises instead of just, well here’s what I’m doing. The best franchises out there, I’m sure are having roundtables with their top performers, and they’re working with their bottom performers on operational excellence, sales excellence, financial performance excellence. Isn’t that what you wanted? Isn’t that what [00:52:00] you were looking for in the first place?
Our relationship with, in most cases, with our franchise owners that we work with, when we sign a new client our relationship’s directly with you, the franchisee. We work for the franchisee and to your point you jump into- the sales tax one’s usually always the one that causes the problem right in the beginning. A franchisor that doesn’t have that bookkeeping relationship, they send a new franchisee to a new state they’re not even involved in.
Wes: They don’t know the tax structure.
Chris: The franchisee three months down the road, they get a notice. They’re like, “You owe $7,000 in penalties because you haven’t filed your tax right.” Then it’s like, I didn’t know I was supposed to do this. The carpenter, of course, she didn’t know that. You’ve never had to deal with sales tax your whole life.
Wes: Exactly. It’s al so incredibly important to understand these types of things so it doesn’t take you by surprise, because I know franchisees that, they didn’t think through any of this before they got involved. Hopefully, that type of support is there. When I’m coaching someone through the process of investigating a franchise business, there’s upfront fees that you have to pay to become a franchisee, and then there’s ongoing fees that you’re always going to pay as a franchisee. To me, it’s very formulaic to understand is it worth it or not? You got to understand what are you getting upfront for the fees that you’re paying.
Like you’ve already said, you’re getting access to a proven system. I like how you put it, you’re avoiding bumping your head and places that the franchisor and other franchisees before you have bumped their head. [00:54:00] I always say you’re paying to avoid mistakes that the franchisor and the franchisees before you have already made. That’s valuable. With the ongoing fees, it’s a value exchange. I’m giving usually a percentage of revenue back to the franchisor. What am I getting in exchange for that? This type of shared learning that we’re talking about where the franchisor has systems in place to leverage data across the system, and this could take a lot of different forms.
We’re talking about bookkeeping, and financial metrics, but this can apply in just about any other aspect of the business as well. That’s a huge part of really understanding the value that you can expect to get as a franchisee within a particular system is what do they have in place to help a franchisee that six months in look at their financial statements and see, are they on track or where are they off track, and then what can they do to get back on track? If you don’t have other franchisees in the system to compare it to, it’s a lot harder to identify what are these areas of opportunity?
Look, man, I know I’ve kept you for a while. This has been amazing. A lot of good advice here. Before we sign off, I want to let you tell people where they can learn more about Top 2 Bottom and connect with you but before we do that, any parting words of wisdom, any advice- in particularly any advice for the small business owner out there that’s gotten to a certain point, but they feel like they’re a little bit stuck, maybe they feel like they’ve plateaued and they’re looking to jump to that next level, any advice for them? Also, any advice for the aspiring entrepreneur out there that wants to go get into business for themselves [00:56:00] but hasn’t quite been able to take that first step yet?
Chris: No, the first thing I’d say is, “You’ve made the right choice.” Being an entrepreneur from a work perspective is by far the biggest success that I’ve ever had, and I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had. I think the advices don’t ever get in your own way. You’ve got to continue to look for ways to grow, and it always starts with you. You’re always going to be the clog in the process. Look at it from that perspective, and find ways to get unique in your decisions about how you grow and expand that you can do anything. We’re told that from a very young age, and it happens, we’re in the greatest place that we can possibly be.
Wes: That’s powerful, right there. I think that advice, don’t get in your own way, or get out of your own way. That’s huge, man, because that’s– I can’t think of a business owner, I’ve talked to that wouldn’t tell you that at one point in time, they were the bottleneck that kept their company from growing, and as soon as they recognize it and took the right actions, there was just explosive growth that followed. so I love that.
Chris: For sure. Did you want me to go ahead and tell you about where you can find us at?
Wes: Let me do the lightning round first. I always almost forget this. These are the same four questions that I ask every guest that comes on the podcast and kind of like we just talked about. Now I’ve got all this cumulative data of how all these successful entrepreneurs answer these same four questions. That’s why I like to do it, but I do [00:58:00] always almost forget about it. We’ll hit the lightning round, then you can tell us where people can find you and connect with you. Then we’ll put a bow on this. First question of the lightning round is simply, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and that could be in business or in life? You can’t use the piece of advice that you just gave.
Chris: That’s pretty simple. The guy who gave me this advice is going to get a kick out of hearing this later on. He told me back a few years ago, when I first started my business, we were having a conversation. I have lots of people that I call mentors that I’m talking to all the time. One time he said to me, “Don’t ever make a decision in your business that does not give you choices and options,” and that’s probably by far the most important advice that I’ve gotten.
Wes: Never make a decision in your business that doesn’t leave you with choices and options?
Wes: Never back yourself into a corner?
Chris: Nope. Every decision should have other things that can come from it if it doesn’t work out, because most of the time, your first decision isn’t the right one.
Wes: Yes, no, I love that. That’s really good advice and I think it’s well put. Next question is- and I know you have kids like I have kids, so I’m definitely curious as your answer to this but do you have any sort of a morning routine? Anything you try to do every morning to prime yourself for a successful day?
Chris: Yes. Help the family get going. Coffee and review what I did the day before, and make sure that I have a good, solid plan for that day.
Wes: That’s good. Coffee is key, especially right there in the midst of helping the family get going. Why, I texted you yesterday. I was like, “Hey, man, can we push back 30 minutes?” We had this scheduled for like, right as the [01:00:00] nanny gets here and I just knew that was– What did I say? I think I was like, “I want to make sure I don’t have baby throw up on me when we start this,” or something. The coffee is key. What book are you reading right now?
Chris: The E-Myth Revisited. I try to read it every year, and it’s something to live by.
Wes: Yes, my listeners, my loyal listeners are probably sick of hearing about The E-Myth Revisited because I bring it up all the time. I would say at least half of the guests, if not more that I’ve had have referenced that book in some capacity. I send a copy of it to everyone I work with that goes on to get into business for themselves. I too try to read that book once a year along with Think and Grow Rich and The Power of Habit.
Those are the three books that I find very valuable to revisit on a somewhat regular basis. If you haven’t read The E-Myth Revisited yet people, go read it. It’s required reading if you want to own a business. All right, last question, what is your definition of freedom? Are you living it?
Chris: My definition of freedom is having a work-life balance. Being able to put down the gloves at five o’clock. Be free on the weekends to spend time with my family, and I’m living it, and I hope that everybody on my team– It’s an organizational thing, and I hope that every one of them is living it as well.
Wes: One look, here’s the coolest thing about the business that you’re in, is you’re helping all of your clients at least get a step closer to living that too, right? Because you’re taking a very critical yet a very time-consuming aspect of the business off the plate for them. I think it’s awesome. I just wanted to quickly acknowledge you. I’m very glad that you and I met [01:02:00] and connected.
I think we have a lot in common. I know I’ve learned a lot from talking with you and having lunch with you and all of that. You’re an inspiration for me, keep doing what you’re doing, but before I let you go, do tell people where can they find you, where can they connect with you. Quick warning, do not just google, “Top to bottom.” You might get some weird stuff. Put the business solutions in there, and that way you make sure it’s a clean search result that comes up.
Chris: Yes, you can always come to the website www.t2bbsolutions.com. You can also give us a call at 704-895-6030. The parting thing I would say is, I, more than anything, and I think Wes could attest to this, I love talking business. I do not charge to talk business. I’ll have conversations with you, and we’ll talk for a long time before we ever work together. It’s a learning experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoy it so don’t hesitate to reach out.
Wes: Yes, now, Chris and I have had many, many, some of which have been lengthy conversations about business, and I always enjoy it and appreciate his insight. Like you said earlier, businesses are just about any size, right? You could be a newer business starting out that’s only got 100,000 or so in revenue a year, and you could be up to multi seven-figure business, and Top 2 Bottom can help you out.
We’ll link the website, put the phone number, all that stuff in the show notes, make it easy for people to find you, but Chris, again, man, really appreciate the time. Thanks for all the information and advice that you shared with us today, and I just appreciate you dropping in here on the Path 2 Freedom [01:04:00] podcast.
Chris: I appreciate it as well, thank you so much for your time.
Wes: Got it.
Wes: That’s a wrap. Thanks for joining me today. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcast, so you’ll know when a new episode is released. You can also check me out on my website at www.path2frdm.com. If you want more information about franchising or just want to say hello, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. Thanks again, now go drop in.
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