I want to tell you the story of Thelma and Louise. No, not the iconic 1991 film starring Gina Davis and Susan Sarandon; while this is also a tale of women helping women, it doesn’t end in a drive towards the cliff’s edge. Instead, this Thelma is the CEO of a fast-growing business. As the story begins, she is trying to psyche herself up to tackle the least favorite part of her job; doing “the numbers.”
“Alexa,” Thelma said, “play motivational music.”
She needed to go over the profit and loss statements and balance sheets she’d received last week from her tax preparer. These were based on a bookkeeping system she begrudgingly kept up to date herself… using Excel spreadsheets instead of a convenient system like QuickBooks® Online.
She alone had to use these numbers to make some tough decisions. And whether the information was clear to her or not, Thelma had nobody she could talk to that understood her business challenges. Not her employees – it would make them nervous to understand how businesses’ profits go up and down. Not the people in her networking groups – you want to always present yourself as successful, capable, ahead of the game.
They say, “it’s lonely at the top,” and at times like these, surrounded by complex spreadsheets and financial reports, leading her business felt like an especially lonesome burden.
As though Alexa was reading her thoughts, Eleanor Rigby started playing.
“All the lonely people,” the Beatles sang, “where do they all belong?”
Not a very motivating song,” she thought. And while she knew she should be doing the numbers, instead she started thinking about all those lonely people. Where, she wondered, do they all belong? Where did she belong?
She looked back at her computer screen, filled with rows and columns, percentages, and formulas. This was important, but so too was checking her email, so she decided to do that instead.
There was an email from one of her friends in a networking group who had given her some advice on navigating the difficulties of scaling. It was an email introduction:
“Thelma! After our last Zoom meeting, I wanted to introduce you to my business coach, Louise. She really helped me to figure out how to grow my company, and I think you two have a lot in common. Please connect!”
Thelma didn’t think she really needed a business coach. She had built her company up to this point all by herself. It was her job to continue that process, right!?! How could a stranger help?
Just then Simon and Garfunkel’s song “I am a Rock” came on.
“Well played, Alexa,” she thought… “Being an island isn’t working for me.” So, she replied to the email and booked an appointment with Louise.
In their first Zoom meeting, Louise spent most of the time listening to Thelma describe her business challenges.
As a business coach, Louise had known many entrepreneurs just like Thelma. These founders had built their businesses from the ground up, cautiously expanding, slow to take on new people and delegate high-level tasks. They understood that they couldn’t do everything, but believed they should do as much as possible without outside help. Thelma needed help to get out of her own way.
Louise thought the best way to start was with Thelma’s least favorite thing – the numbers. For Louise, numbers told the most accurate story of a business. She found comfort and insight in seeing those same reports that left Thelma bewildered. Numbers were a map that told you where you were, where you needed to go, and how to get there. You just had to know how to read it.
Thelma enjoyed talking about her business with Louise, whose approach seemed both aspirational and analytical. She wasn’t the first business coach Thelma had ever spoken with, but was the first she’d really clicked with. She decided to see where this partnership could lead.
Louise had Thelma send her every financial report, every spreadsheet, every profit and loss statement. As she read through them, a clear picture emerged.
At their next meeting, they went through the numbers. Louise translated those numbers into words that showed Thelma how she could take her business to the next level. She would need to restructure and build out her team, and hire people whose expertise could make Thelma a more effective CEO.
Thelma was resistant. It seemed risky. Her company wasn’t ready yet. Hiring more people would increase her own burden.
Louise told her about Henry Ford. As one of the world’s most influential industrialists, Ford couldn’t do a lot of things needed to run and grow his business, but surrounded himself with experts who could. Like an orchestra conductor, he knew that the secret to large-scale success was a team of talented people.
Convinced, Thelma began to scale up her company. As her business grew there were new challenges, and new hires to face them.
After Louise had helped Thelma become comfortable with the numbers, it was time to go deeper into this work. Thelma would need someone who could set up a better bookkeeping system, identify profit leaks, and devise customized metrics that would give Thelma a stronger grasp on her business operations. She needed someone who could help her to master her cash flow in a way that would make the next logical steps evident. She knew the perfect person to introduce Thelma to:
“Hi Thelma. As we discussed, now is the time for you to start working with a CFO who can offer a more sophisticated approach to your financials. I want to introduce you to a CFO I’ve worked with. Her name is also Louise, but you can never know too many Louises. Right! Anyways, happy connecting”
Road Trip To Success!
While our Thelma and Louise (and Louise) did not drive through the desert and off a cliff – again, that’s a different story altogether – after a few months of working with the CFO, Thelma gained a new sense of freedom and control as her business grew. She finally understood that seeking help was not a weakness but a strength. Stepping out of her comfort zone was the first step to help her feel less isolated.
Thelma sat down at her desk and asked Alexa to play her some music. Johnny Nash came on with “I Can See Clearly Now.” Thelma brought up the numbers without fear, certain it was going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day.
Need a part-time CFO to help you befriend your numbers? Dashboard can help. Need a business coach to help you grow your business? Ivy Slater of Slater Success could be the one you’re looking for. And thank you Ivy for your help in fleshing out the story of Thelma and Louise.
Carol Soman CPA
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER