Nicole Landau, owner of Landau Consulting Solutions, specializes in helping construction business owners gain control over their finances by increasing profit margins and streamlining their accounting function. She also provides financial coaching to small businesses who want to gain clarity on their financial situation.
2:09 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Rely on your network to find your first paying customers
Nicole talks about starting her business as a side hustle while working a full-time job and as the mother of a newborn to have a flexible life. She talks about relying on her network (a colleague) to find her first client and specializing in construction industry (which she has personal experience of having built couple of houses) to differentiate herself.
5:38 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Rely on your network to find your first paying customers
Nicole takes us on a step-by-step journey of her registering her company, getting her license etc. which took a very short time. She talks about defining her offering, figuring out marketing, marketing messages took little bit of extra time.
7:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Extend your traditional offering to grow your business into new areas.
Nicole details about the specialization of services in her business like complete payroll/accounting outsourcing for construction businesses and consulting / coaching for new businesses in financing & accounting to help them grow.
10:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Find ways to connect to your customers on a personal level to earn their trust.
Nicole has an interesting angle about establishing herself as a trusted advisor in what is typically a male-owned businesses. She says many of the wives handle the finances & accounting in these businesses and Nicole could relate to them and become a trusted adviser.
14:03 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Tap into your local chamber of commerce network and/or create your own network to grow your business.
Nicole talks about her motivation (which is her daughter and her family), her support network (coach identified by local chamber of commerce), and a specialist coach in her own accounting industry that helped her scale her business. She also talks about the network she built with other business-woman-moms.
18:01 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Don’t procrastinate and start investing in networking.
Nicole gives 3 tips to would be entrepreneurs (1) Just start doing it (2) Networking is huge (3) Take time to invest in sales and building a customer pipeline
21:17 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep learning to grow your business and be an empathetic leader.
Nicole talks about some key personality characteristics of successful business owners she works with. (1) They invest in themselves to learn from experts (2) Takes care of his employees (3) Repeat customers because they love working with him
22:41 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Specialize in profitable areas and select good customers to work with.
Nicole talks about some challenges such as specializing in profitable services and focusing on ideal customers as opposed to any customers. She mentions that it is key to let go off bad customers as they will be a drain on the business.
24:42 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Focus on cash flow.
Nicole gives advice to entrepreneurs to focus on cash flow to survice in business.
27:30 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Find a coach. Network. Start doing it.
Nicole gives parting thoughts on finding the right coach in your own industry to grow the business, be hungry about networking, and not to be afraid to jump in.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcomes to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today we have Nichole Landau as our guest. Nichole is the owner of Landau consulting solutions, specializing in helping construction business owners gain control over their finances by increasing profit margins and streamlining their accounting function. She also provides financial coaching to small businesses who want to gain clarity on their financial situations. Hi Nichole welcome.
Nicole: Good morning thanks for having me.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, you specialize in financing and accounting and construction area. So, a very interesting business here.
Nicole: Yes, that is my focus and I also focus on small business as well.
Ramesh: Excellent excellent. So, let's get started with how did you actually end up starting a business and if you could tell your story please.
Nicole: Yeah absolutely. So really getting started in my business was a big leap of faith. It was always this dream that I had that I wanted to be on my own someday and really just said yep here's my timeline, let's do it and jumped into it. When I first got started I was still working full time and I had a newborn at that time as well. So, I was balancing a full-time job, being a mother, a new mother and then having this dream of entrepreneurship and really getting started. So, I was taking on a lot at the time. But it has been the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done in my life and I absolutely love it.
Ramesh: Yeah so you said you had a full-time job, so was your job related to financing, finance and accounting?
Nicole: It was. I started my career in accounting and then went to, if you're an accountant you'd call it going to the dark side of internal audit. For clients they would outsource to us and I also worked in industry for large companies, retailers, bankers as an internal auditor for those companies. So, I was an auditor for a bank when I started my own business and at that time we were going through a merger and so a lot of our audits had stopped for a while and that's when it really hit me, what am I doing, what do I want to do with my career and how am I going to get there. So that's where I took a deeper dive and said, I'm ready to go out on my own. I want to be a trusted advisor and work with multiple clients and really help them get their accounting and their finances in order and really take it to the next level and help them grow their business.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, I understand your finance and accounting background how you parlayed into your business. But in addition to small businesses, you're also specializing in construction. Why construction?
Nicole: So, at one point in my career I thought I might be an architect. I thought I would go to school to be an architect and I took classes, I was really good at the CAD drawings and woodworking and really enjoyed it and my husband and I, we've actually built two houses from start to finish on our own and have really been involved and enjoyed the trades. So, when I started my business, I wanted to focus on one industry and really become an expert in that area. So, I came back to construction and just because I really enjoyed it, I’ve grown up with it, I’ve always been around it and that's kind of how I got started when I started my business is just getting back to working with other construction professionals.
Ramesh: Okay excellent, excellent. So, one of the challenges that any new entrepreneur, any business owner will have been getting their first set of customers, even the first customer. So how did you overcome that obstacle?
Nicole: So, I had a colleague who was in Dallas and had a client, I'm located just south of Denver. He had a client that was in Denver and said hey you should take this over. I know you're starting your business, I'd love to help you get started as well. Because he had to start somewhere as well. So, we worked out a deal to where I took over one of his clients in Denver and from there just doing a really good job of setting up their accounting and helping them grow their business, they referred me to somebody else and, so it became a referral network to get my first few clients and then it's just expanded from there.
Ramesh: I see. So how long have you been in business?
Nicole: I started early in 2017. So, a little over two years now, almost two and a half years.
Ramesh: I see, okay excellent. So, then you decided that you wanted to start your business. So, what are the steps that you took actually? So, I mean if you could walk us through, did you go on first thing is finding the name for the business and so what are the initial steps that you had to take and then any help that you got, the mechanics of actually starting a business.
Nicole: So first getting started I did a lot of research in my state of Colorado to how to form a business. What paperwork did I need to even file with the state and there's a lot of information on the internet? But go into like the Secretary of State and filing and also figuring out my business name and making sure nobody else had that name. And so, registering that with the state, applying for all of the insurances that go with it and all the business license is as well. So, making it a formal entity and then doing the tax work as well. So really getting everything formalized first with the state and then just like with any other business owner, getting it set up with the accountant, getting to account the bank account set up from day one and really just take care of the foundation of the business.
Ramesh: So, I mean how long did that process, overall process take place? In the sense like let's say you said, hey I want to go into my business and then you started researching and let's consider that as a day one and then how long did it actually you know really and start doing the business.
Nicole: I think it was pretty quick. Once you got everything formalized, you know setting up all the paperwork and everything is really fast. But then it's like taking the next steps and figuring out your product offering, where you're going to market it, your marketing message, that next step, that next layer took the most amount of time. But doing the formalization was pretty quick.
Ramesh: Okay so excellent. So probably in two three months say you're in business with your first customer then?
Nicole: Yes absolutely.
Ramesh: Okay excellent. So just so I'm clear you're not an accountant?
Nicole: I am yes.
Ramesh: You are okay, okay. So then in that case, so can you give us a profile of the set of customers you have. Like both with respect to a demographics, age kind of stuff and also the kind of industries and then the third one is in terms of small or a medium. If you could give us a profile of the customers that you have.
Nicole: Absolutely. So, we have a couple of different service offerings. We have monthly construction accounting clients and they're across the United States from Virginia to San Diego. Most of them are general contractors in construction and they do not have an accounting function. So, they will outsource it to us and we handle all of their accounting for them. Their accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll month in closed and really supporting them from an accounting function and helping them grow their business and that's like the monthly accounting and then we do consulting engagements to where they might have a software that they want to use that they need to talk to the accounting system. So, getting those systems to integrate and all of them talking together, we'll set those up for them and then we also have clients that are just getting started. They might be in their infancy to where there are just getting started or they might have been doing it for two to three years, but they didn't really set it up correctly or they did it themselves. So, we will go in and do cleanup projects for them and we'll clean up their books and really establish a system for them. That way they can start tracking their numbers and their projects and really start to see increased profit margins based on just better reporting for them.
Ramesh: Actually, very interesting. So, you didn't open just an accounting business, you open a consulting business in the area of Finance and Accounting.
Nicole: Yeah, a little bit of both.
Ramesh: Yeah so and then I think the problems that you're trying to solve is just hey just not the accounting and payroll. But anything that touches the accounting payroll if you have other software that touches it that has issues, I will solve you for that. So, I think it's a very interesting way that you're expanding your business here.
Nicole: Yeah absolutely. Because you know we really want to support businesses and help them grow. Most go into business and they're really good at their trade no matter what that is. Even if it's not in construction they're really good at what they do. But it's really taking it to the next level and tracking the financial data, without knowing your numbers, it's hard to grow and see what's working and what's not and how to analyze different scenarios. So, we really want to give them that data to make better financial decisions and really grow their business.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, Nicole let me ask you this a little bit of a personal question, so yours is a women-owned business and then you are working with what is considered in the construction and which is a little bit probably a male-dominated kind of industry and I don't know what the accounting profession itself how it is. But how has your experience been as a women-owned business working in the financial accounting and the construction kind of an area?
Nicole: You know I really haven't had any pushback and like you said most of my owners are male. It is a male-dominated industry. I do, so what you'll normally see in the construction industry is the mom or the wife who will be working in the business doing the accounting function and so that's, I think they kind of see me as like their business partner that helps them and helps them understand that data to where their mom or their wife might not know all the financial ins and out, so I work with them as well. But they really see me as a trusted advisor and I haven't had any push back like I said, that has made it go the wrong way.
Ramesh: That's very very interesting. Very insightful, thank you about moms, there's somebody else you know helping them with the finances and then, so you could relate, I think that you could connect with them.
Nicole: Yes absolutely.
Ramesh: That's very nice. All right so then for most of the business owners from what I have seen in my conversations, in addition to their own self Drive there are also other motivations, other inspirations or inspirators in their life. So, in your case what is it? So, who inspired you? Who motivated you? Who helped you apart from yourself?
Nicole: So, I think number one, I have a young daughter and so the reason I wanted to start my business, my why does I really want to be there for her as she's growing up. I want to balance the mom life and being an entrepreneur and always being there for her. So, she's my number one inspiration and family's really important to me and so that's really keeps me going and trying to find that work-life balance. I know there's a lot of moms out there that do both. Even being an entrepreneur mom is a whole new level as well. But it's been very rewarding and also who's been inspirations to me is other business owners that are especially moms too that are going through the day-to-day what I'm going through too, and I can with them. So, I built a really strong network of other entrepreneurs who are doing the same thing and see the same struggles. Because when you start your own business, nobody tells you how hard it's going to be and but it's the most rewarding thing ever. You wear so many different hats right and you just learned so much and I’ve learned a lot about myself as well going through this process and I love to share that information with others. So, I’ve had a lot of mentors that have helped me through this process and people that I never knew would be a mentor have become mentors.
Ramesh: Excellent, actually that is very very important I think for the listeners to know, but how did you find, how did you create this network? How did you find this network?
Nicole: So, I got very fortunate. When I first started my business, I went to the local Chamber of Commerce to get started. Because I didn't know what I was doing and, so I thought maybe that might be a good starting point for me and within our local chamber, they had a mentorship program where they would pair you up with a coach.
Nicole: And I got paired with a coach that was great, he was very business savvy. He worked for IBM at one point in his career. So, he was very knowledgeable about business, but he didn't understand accounting specifically and I felt like that was one piece that was missing. I need a specialized coach and he just wasn't quite there. That's when I started to do a lot of research. I wanted to find somebody who was in my industry, but had also ran their own business and I came across an accounting coach that helps other accounting practices, accountants tax people really build their firm. So, I got involved with their program and have met so many other people that have been very influential to my business and helped me grow my business. But they have really laid out a program, their program was very specialized to help with marketing, sales, product delivery, pricing. It was really the whole gamut. But what was really important for me was the specialty. I wanted somebody who understood accounting and how to grow an accounting practice. So that's how I found my coach.
Ramesh: Excellent, that is very very good. So, I know as a business owner myself, finance and account are extremely crucial. But from your experience running a business, I want to understand your perspective as to how accounting plays a role in especially the new business owners and starting companies.
Nicole: Yeah absolutely. So, it's really important to track your numbers from day one. You might have a product that you think is great and ready to go to the market. But you really need to understand your profit margins, what price you're going to take it to the market or if you're a service delivery, if you have clients how much are you going to charge that client for your service and really understanding those numbers. But it's important to track it. Like I said because if you're not tracking it, you don't really know what your profit margins are. How much you're making per client and then also taking it a step further, if you are offering like a service or a coaching program, how many sales calls do you need to have, how many closes do you need to have on each sales call. What's your close percentage and really just tracking everything when you're first getting started, so you know what's working, what's not working. If you're on social media, how many posts are you doing, your ad spend. You can't just do things blindly, you can, but you won't survive. So even if it's not just from the accounting perspective, tracking everything is so important from start to finish in everything you do. Especially when you're first getting started. Because you might not have the financial backing when you first get started. So, it's important to know okay how much do I need to make per month to survive and keep my business and my doors open and then working backwards to know how much you need to sell, how many calls you need to have, what’s your spend is and so really tracking everything to the penny.
Ramesh: Okay excellent. Then I'm a person, I want to start a business right, so let me first take that one. So what tips can you provide me as to how I can go about it?
Nicole: So, I really say just do it. Just jump in. It's never at the right time. It feels like it's never the right time, you prepare, and you prepare. I say just do it. Get out there, go for it, find others that you can collaborate with and really build your market. Networking is huge. It's amazing. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn and the networks that I’ve built on LinkedIn has been huge for me. There's so many people out there and even if you're not targeting your ideal clients, look for the people who are servicing your clients too. So, within construction, I also network with loan officers that service construction companies. I've networked with contractor coaches, the coaches that help construction businesses with maybe the operations. So, there's a really a whole networking aspect to it. You think you don't have time, but you have to make time when you're first getting started and really get your name out there and your product out there and what you do for other people to help refer you and then like we talked about earlier, know your numbers. What are your goals, how are you going to reach that goal and what's it going to take to get there? Each month how many new clients do you need to bring in, how many sales calls do you need to make a month, each week. But really keeping it that in mind.
Ramesh: Excellent. So that's really good. So, Nicole you talked about few, three services I think you're providing to your clients and then I want to ask you, you've been dealing with a lot of customers and clients. What kind of characteristics that do you see in people who running successful businesses versus people who are struggling with the business?
Nicole: So, I think being very open and honest about your situation. I have had some failures that have come my way, if somebody who has had a great idea they think they're going to do it, but they're hiding something or they're making excuses and they're just not realistic with their financial situation or really digging deep into what's not working. You have to be open-minded, take feedback from others if they're trying to help you, so that you can grow and make adjustments. So, it's really being honest with yourself, but being open to take criticism and feedback to grow your business.
Ramesh: I mean for example I’ll give you in leading up to this podcast through our email communication and this and I could figure out that you're a very organized person. So as a characteristic I said okay fine, so she must be really running a good business. Because she seems to be very disciplined and organized. I mean just through the communications and all that stuff I could figure it out. So likewise, you know like what are the personality, attributes that you are seeing in the clients who are you know really killing it.
Nicole: I will give you an example. One of my clients that is on a track to, he's doing great as he is, but he is just killing it. Because he's getting coaches from multiple facets of his business. So, he's not just looking at one coach, but he's getting several different coaches to come into the business to really help him grow. He's a good leader too. People love working with him. He has a lot of repeat clients and even his workers just talking with his workers they stay, and you can see that they've stayed with him since day one. He's been in business for six years and I would say probably 80% of his staff are still there. So, he's just a really down-to-earth, open, family-oriented man that really takes care of his employees and values the leadership. But he works to improve himself. He's not just, I’ll do whatever it takes to get by to make it day-to-day. He really invests in himself to become better and his employees.
Ramesh: Excellent that's really good and then let's talk a little bit about the challenges. What challenges did you face prior to starting the business and then after you started the business?
Nicole: So, I would think, first getting out I didn't know really what I want, I wasn't clear on my service delivery. What was I really going to provide. Accounting is a very big broad spectrum. But we needed to hone it in and decide what service I would be delivering, who I would be going after. Like who would be my ideal client. But also coming up with a list of who that ideal client is and what does that look like. Not everybody is a good client, not everybody is a good fit. Sometimes you learn that the hard way. You go through bad experiences and say this just isn't working, we need to cut ties and this is how I'm going to improve for next time.
Ramesh: Actually, that's a very good point. Because one of the guests that I interviewed, and she said she fired her clients, bad clients.
Nicole: Yes, yes definitely. Don't be afraid to do it. It is hard and it's emotional the first few times. But I think it really makes you a stronger person and it really helps you define what your service delivery is and how you want to grow your business.
Ramesh: Right okay. So, towards end and the last couple of questions. So, in addition to the challenges that you faced, what challenges are you seeing the customers are facing? What are the typical things that they're struggling with?
Nicole: Cash flow is always an issue, it doesn't have to be specific to construction. I talked to other business owners as well and I read their posts and their struggles and hear from other practitioners. But cash flow seems to be a big issue if you're not tracking it and especially at the early stages when you're first getting started.
Ramesh: So, Nicole let me, sorry ask you a little bit clarifying question; the cash flow. Is the cash flow related to that money is not coming in that means no customer pipeline or that money is coming, but these owners don't have a handle on what money is coming and what money is going?
Nicole: All the above. Because I see you too where clients don't build when they should be, they do the work and then they get busy and they don't build when they should be and then they also are paying out money to subs or their overhead their employees and they just don't know, they're spending more than what's coming in.
Ramesh: I see, okay so that's one and then keep going sorry.
Nicole: So, a lot of first getting started cash flow really need to understand the cash flows and help grow the business.
Ramesh: I see, okay excellent. So that's good and then in terms of the timeline, like I’ve started a business and what have you noticed both with your own business and with your client’s business. Like many times people say that the first year is the toughest one and if you have survived two years, then you're in business kind of stuff. So, what have you noticed the evolution of the business with respect to time?
Nicole: I would say that's very true. Sometimes it's trial and error to figure it out. But if you do have a coach or somebody that's helping you an expert in some of these areas, they can speed up that process. Because they've seen what works and what doesn't work and help you implement processes early on. But then when you're also first starting out your business, it's about can you afford it, or do you have to figure it out yourself. So, it depends on where you are in your business. But really to speed up that timeline and that's part of why I found a specialized coach. I could cut down that timeline and really propel my business very quickly, instead of working with somebody who was just a generalist and new business but didn't understand my industry. It could have taken me years working with that coach where I found a specialist who had worked with thousands of other accounting practitioners to grow their business and I could cut down that timeline. So that's something else to keep in mind. When something isn't working in your business, find somebody that has worked with lots of clients, hundreds, thousands of clients that can help you reduce that timeline. So, you don't go in the hole and have to close your doors sooner than you want to.
Ramesh: That's very very good actually. Because many times people go after different kinds of coaches, gurus or whatever, I think they're struggling with finding the right person. So, the last question Nicole. In general, anything that I have not asked, we have not talked, things that you want to share.
Nicole: There's a lot when getting started. Don't be afraid just do it, it's like I said earlier. It's the most rewarding thing and hardest thing at the same time. But I wouldn't take it back for anything in the world. Find a coach that specializes in your area no matter what industry you are in. There's experts out there, go find them and really go after it. If you want it and you're hungry enough, do it and find the right people to build your network and who will support you.
Ramesh: Excellent, Nicole so you're in your third year. So, it looks like things are really going well for you. I wish you the very best and then thank you very much for your time.
Nicole: Thank you, I appreciate it.