This week we have the pleasure of sitting down with Brent McClure. Brent knows that hiring a CFO isn't something many small or medium sized businesses can afford so he started promoting his CFO services as more of an outsourced, a la carte, offering via McClure Consulting. Let's dive into our conversation with Brent McClure.
Brent: Hey my name is Brent McClure. I have a self-titled consulting firm here in Mobile, Alabama.
Marcus: Awesome. Well, Brent, it is awesome to have you on the podcast and we've known each other for I don't know, about a year now?
Brent: Yeah, maybe so. Maybe a year, 18 months, something like that. Thanks for having me.
Marcus: Yeah, I'm excited because I think you're offering services that not many people think of.
Brent: Right. That's exactly right.
Marcus: We were talking a little bit about that before we started recording. We'll get into that a little bit here in just a minute, but before we get into what you currently do, why don't you tell us the story of who you are and where you're from, where you'd go to high school, college, are you married, just all the backstory stuff.
Brent: Okay, sure. No problem. Born and raised in a small town in Louisiana, Wildsville Louisiana. Very close-knit small farming community. My parents owned the local grocery store. So, I started work at the grocery store when I was probably five years old. I would put up boxes, one box of groceries and they would give me a quarter and I would go play Ms. Pac-Man in the arcade corner. Truly I've had a lifetime of business experience because I was at the store ... it sort of consumed our life, my parents' life, my life sister's life. So, not many people can say that, but I spent the first 22 years of my life working for my dad and mom in the store. My dad called it The McClure School of Economics. From there I went to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Degree in accounting. Pass a CPA exam. Became a CPA. Spent maybe 14, 15 years in public accounting and five or six more years in consulting or CFO services. About five years ago, maybe six, went back to Tulane University in New Orleans to go for an executive MBA program. So, managed to somehow get through that course load along with working full-time.
Marcus: I can imagine that wasn't easy.
Brent: No. Worth it, but certainly not easy. Married to my beautiful wife Shannon, who really should be given credit for who I am today and what I've become. I think she saw me as a work in process when we first met.
Marcus: Most wives do.
Brent: She was like, "This poor kid. I can take him places." I don't know she thinks it's worth it now, but ... So, we have two children, Piper and Stevens, eight and nine years old. We've been in Mobile about eight years, moved here from Birmingham.
Marcus: So, from Louisiana, but I don't get a hint of an accent.
Brent: Ah, glad you asked. This small town, I like to say, is right in the middle of you have Cajuns country, south and you have Rednecks north. We're sort of right in the middle in the delta in the-
Marcus: You're the Switzerland of Louisiana.
Brent: Correct. Like right in the farming mecca of Louisiana.
Marcus: Very cool. So, you were raised by, for all intents and purposes, were entrepreneurs.
Marcus: Did you think that's influenced your ...
Brent: Yes. I do. I certainly do because that is ... my parents were entrepreneurs, aunts, uncle. Everyone had their own business. We were in a small town.
Marcus: Small town, yeah.
Brent: So, that's all I knew honestly. I wasn't brought up by working parents, like nine to five job parents. I only knew entrepreneurship for a long time. I certainly think that has a lot to contribute to where I'm doing today.
Marcus: You mentioned that your first job was putting the boxes up, but, I mean, moving forward to what most would consider their first job, do you remember any lessons that you learned from that, even if it was just like working in a fast food restaurant or something along those lines?
Brent: My first job outside of the store was at a CPA firm, smaller CPA firm in Natchitoches and I learned how to treat clients. So, a little bit different than customers so to speak. We were working on a lot of auditing engagements. So, we had to remain independent in fact and appearance, but at the same time they were our client, so we have to keep the clients happy, but at the same time be independent. That was new to me because I've sort of been in the customer service industry at the store. That was very new to me. I've had to balance the keep the client happy, but also deliver bad news, if they had a bad year, bad financials or something-
Marcus: You had to be impartial, but keep it kind of at a distance because that's what they're ... basically what they're hiring you for.
Brent: Exactly. Exactly.
Marcus: We were talking a little bit beforehand about the difference between the fractional CFO or CFO rather ... I mean, you offer ... Let's just get this out of [inaudible 00:05:45], you offer fractional CFO services, right?
Marcus: We were talking about the difference between what a CFO does and what your typical accountant or bookkeeper might do.
Brent: Sure. In a business, you're going to have or should have some bookkeeper, some accountants, maybe some higher level individuals that sit at the controller level. In government, they call that the comptroller, and then above that you have CFOs, chief financial officers. The accountants and controller are focused more on historical results, what happened last week, last month, last quarter, last year, the last five years. So, they're crunching numbers. They're inputting customer invoices, they're inputting vendor invoices, they're getting the bills paid, they're producing reports of your financials. The CFO, on the other hand, is much more strategic. 20 years ago they were also living in history. Now they've become much more strategic. Some survey say that even 80% percent of their role is a strategic role. So, you see them more and more sitting, having a seat at the board table alongside the COO or the CEO and talking about more strategic initiatives, business growth, development, sales planning, just ...
Marcus: So, in a typical structure the CEO is the one that's providing the vision, the direction of the company and rallying the troops. The COO is providing the organizational structure, that the CFO, the chief financial officer, is the one that's making sure that whatever decisions they're going to be making, make economic sense as well.
Brent: That's right.
Marcus: So that they're not overextending themselves and getting themselves into a position where they would be in danger of bankrupting the business or things like that.
Brent: Sure. Sure. The CFO is really held possibly to a higher standard. They're reporting to the board of directors, if there is one, or shareholders if you have shareholders. So, they have to do what's in the best interest of shareholders.
Marcus: You better have your act together.
Brent: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. If the others want to go and develop this piece of property then the CFO with an accounting background can look at that quickly and say, "Okay, this development doesn't work or does work." Or, "Here's the rate of return we need to get." Or, "Let's not look there, let's look somewhere else."
Marcus: Right. I think a lot of people kind of miss out on that and I know that, as a business owner, there are oftentimes where I wish that I had someone that I could go to that would say, "Hey, yes, you can do X." Or, "You can do Y because looking at historical data we can project that you've done this so we know that you're going to do at least this as far as revenue goes." And that, yes it makes sense to do whatever it is that I'm looking at doing. I think what you're doing is phenomenal. Describe to us the consulting services as fractional CFO, what does that mean?
Brent: Right. Fractional CFO, same thing as part-time CFO, outsourced CFO, CFO for hire, lots of taglines thrown around, but essentially my target market will be small to mid-size businesses that can't afford to hire a full time CFO or don't need a full time CFO, but would love to have advice and guidance from a CFO from time to time, like you just mentioned. That's where I come in. So, maybe it's a retainer fee, maybe it's a project, one specific project, but they get to tap into my knowledge and skills and history for much, much less then if they went out and hired a fresh full-time CFO.
Marcus: Sure. I mean, I would imagine because I know you've been at this for a while, so I would imagine the experience is much better than somebody that's just fresh off the graduation stage. Now, how did you end up starting your own business, because obviously you could've very easily just gone back to a management consulting firm and said, "Hey, I just got my MBA. I have an accounting background." They would have easily given you a well into six-figure salary to just go and do what you do. So, why start a business?
Brent: I like to work for myself.
Marcus: There's no better or worse boss than yourself.
Brent: Right. If it goes wrong look in the mirror.
Marcus: If it goes great, hey, I did a good job.
Brent: I did it. Yeah. It's up and down all the time. In the afternoon I'm like, "Yes, great day. I had a great day." The next morning I'm like, "Oh, no. I can't. I can't do this anymore." But yeah, that sums it up. I mean, growing up in such an entrepreneurial environment I've always wanted to go in that direction. After working in the public accounting arena and also for businesses I saw this as a need that wasn't being met, especially in a place like Mobile. There are lots of folks just like me in Atlanta, in LA, in Denver, but not so much in smaller regional cities like Mobile. So, the opportunity to be my own boss, so to speak, is a driving factor in what I'm doing today.
Marcus: You're kind of unique, and like you said, in this market. Not that I'm looking, but I don't know of any other management consulting firms ... I mean, certainly none of the ... the big four?
Brent: They're not here.
Marcus: But is it still four? At one point in time it was the big six, but big four [inaudible 00:12:01] Anderson, Coopers. They don't exist in this market because there's just not enough ... Nobody's going to pay their $2,000 a day rate. I'm sure it's actually probably more than that now.
Brent: Right. They are expensive.
Marcus: Yeah, quite expensive.
Brent: I spent some time with Ernst&Young, one of the big four in Birmingham, before moving here to Mobile. Very expensive. They do great work, but that's for a much larger client. You have $100 million in revenue or more if you're talking to a big four CPA firm, just to afford that invoice.
Marcus: Yeah, not insignificant. Do you remember the first time that you, whether it was met with a client or you were engaged with them, that made you think, yeah, there's something to this? Because oftentimes what we find is that business owners go into whatever it is that they're wanting to do, but there's still some kind of uncertainty. And I know that you kind of alluded to it like there's always that impostor syndrome of you wake up one morning and it's just a crap day or something happens during the day and you're just, "Oh, I just don't want to do this anymore. Maybe getting a job isn't such a bad thing." But there's usually that first time where you have that experience, you're like, "Man, I either help this person and we're a deal." Or something that makes you think it's going to click.
Brent: I can remember one client in particular. It was several clients into this because through word of mouth or friends, my first few clients were pretty easy because I just called my network, told them what I was up to and they're like, "Oh, sure, we need this." And then talking to other people in the public once I get them to understand what I'm doing, they're like, "That's a fantastic idea." But I had one larger client that really, they had issues with their software, they had issues with turnover, they were losing money on jobs. I mean, that they had problems in all areas that would sort of fall under a CFO type person. After spending a couple weeks with them and just highlighting the issues that were going on and I was called in because ... basically, this is what I get a lot, "We're not making as much money as we used to, why?"
Marcus: Magic question.
Brent: I can normally solve that riddle, but highlighting all the issues that this business owner had and walking him through how we could fix this and maybe right size the ship, proved to me, I think, and him, that this service was definitely needed because it's not the only business that has problems in every single area.
Marcus: Yeah. I just find it interesting because oftentimes we think that we know what we're talking about and I hope this isn't surprising anybody listening to this, but even those of us that are running businesses of even any sort. I've talked to people that have $100 million companies and they're still kind of, "I just don't know what's going on here." There's always some level of learning that you're going through or at least if you're a healthy individual there is. I just remember, there are times where you go through a process where you do something for somebody you're like, "Man, that was awesome. That just worked." There's a little bit of just like ...
Marcus: I completely get that.
Brent: A lot of business owners, they're the best plumber or they're the best electrician or they're the best digital advertising person.
Marcus: Hey hey hey, too close to home.
Brent: But they know nothing about accounting and finance and where to best put their money or how to grow or what is too fast of growth. I mean, you can grow too fast and end up flipping the company. So, lots of times I found they tend to ignore it. They just ignore their books and records and run the business from feel and intuition, which is fine.
Marcus: Or from a bank account.
Marcus: Checks in the checkbook and they can keep going.
Brent: Exactly. And that's fine up to a certain point, but to really scale up to a mid-sized business you have to move away from the checkbook approach or intuition approach and I find that they call in their CPA one time a year and that's when they realize they haven't paid enough taxes or it's time to get their tax return done, when in essence they could be a little bit more proactive with someone like myself and get ahead of a lot of issues and as well as grow their business too. That's something they don't understand.
Marcus: If you were sitting with someone that was wanting to start a business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Brent: The one bit of wisdom would be, rely on your network for expert advice. Generally, it's free. It's people you know that are more than willing to help because I find that a lot of people that want to start a business think they can do everything and it's moving fast enough, there are too many moving parts to handle it all well. You have to set up, for example, QuickBooks and then your contracts and then you need sales and then you need revenue and then you have utilities and why not talk to your friend that's an attorney about contracts, let them look at your lease agreement. Talk to your friend that's a CPA about what structure should this be, an escrow, a policy, so on and so forth. Free advice.
Marcus: Or lunch advice.
Brent: Or lunch advice.
Marcus: By lunch [crosstalk 00:18:29] something like that. Your friends are a little bit more apt to do that. I don't usually suggest that you just call somebody out of the blue that you don't have a relationship because they are getting paid for the service, don't cheapen what they offer by doing that, but by all means, I regularly get together with you and we've gotten together and just kind of talked about business and stuff like that and the information that you've given me has been phenomenal. I hope it's been reciprocal for you as well.
Brent: Oh, absolutely.
Marcus: I would go along with that. I just think reaching out to your network is phenomenal, but I was now also just want to touch on something too, and that's that not to ignore the areas of finance when running a business. There's a book called The E-Myth that I oftentimes told new business owners to read and the reason why is because it talks about ... you were mentioning plumber, electrician, digital advertising. Oftentimes people find themselves in positions of running a business because they are technicians and they are good at it and then they get too much business and they have to hire additional people and then it just keeps growing from there and that was my plight. I was good at building websites and doing that kind of thing. Oftentimes I'll suggest that people read a book, especially if they're starting a new business, called The E-Myth, and the reason why is because it goes back to that idea that you were talking about of the plumber, the electrician and it talks about working on the business versus in the business, but that most of the time those of us that are or technicians in a role, we find ourselves with maybe a little bit too much business for ourselves to handle so we end up hiring additional people and thus starts a business, right?
Marcus: It talks about, well even in those instances pull yourself back a little bit and work still in the business because you have to be able to set up the processes and things like that. There aren't many instances where I will tell people to work on their weaknesses because I think that our strengths are where we actually are successful, but if you are in business ... because I know only because I did it for a long time and it's not until the last couple of years where I've made ... like I literally have a task that's set to check profit-loss statements and bank accounts and balance sheets and all that stuff. I do that now on a regular basis because I need to be conscious as a business owner that I'm where I am at from a financial perspective instead of managing it from the bank account-
Brent: From a bank account or a checkbook, yeah.
Marcus: Yeah. It's just a dangerous place to be in. Sorry to kind of get off on that soapbox, but if you're listening to this and you are a business owner please don't ignore this. You may not be able to afford services ... and I don't know what he charges. I didn't ask, but you may not be able to afford Brent's services, but you, in the very least, need to educate yourself on being able to read profit and loss statements and do your bookkeeping on a regular basis and stuff like that.
Brent: Yeah, absolutely.
Marcus: All right. Off soapbox, back onto this. Are there any books or podcast that you've listened to, people that you've been mentored by or organizations that you're a member of that have been helpful?
Brent: I, unfortunately, don't read a lot of books, but I do like podcasts. I tune into Gary Vaynerchuk a lot. Also, James Altucher has a solid podcast that I think he updates almost daily.
Marcus: What's the name? I forget the name of his podcast.
Brent: The James Altucher show.
Marcus: Thought he had a different name.
Brent: He has some good advice as well and his book, Choose Yourself. I read that book. That was a pretty solid book. There are a few others, but those two gentlemen drop a lot of knowledge through their podcasts and have great participants on the podcast that lots of knowledge and ...
Marcus: Lots of value there.
Brent: Yeah, exactly. Lots of value.
Marcus: What about the business owner that may not know enough about finances? I mean, is there an easy, or fairly easy-to-read, book on business finance that you would suggest?
Brent: There are many, many, many books out there on Finance 101 or Finance for Dummies or Accounting for Dummies. I would say most of them are fine. If you really have no idea or not much of an idea about finances, start somewhere. You can Google what is finance. There's a website Investopedia, which runs sort of like Wikipedia and it's all about finance, investing. It has examples, definitions and I push people to that from time to time because it's real quick. If there's a word or phrase that you don't understand, like what is a short-term liability. You have Investopedia and it more than adequately explains what that is and in bits and pieces you pick up how the system works.
Marcus: Keep in mind, nobody is suggesting that you become an accountant or try to act as an accountant. It's like anything, you have to have a vocabulary built up and be able to talk to people, like yourself, about things and know what they're saying versus just hearing [inaudible 00:24:08] like Charlie Brown's teacher when the accountant starts talking to you. All right. So, what is the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Brent: The most important thing that I have learned about running a business. Business never stops. It is 24/7, 365. You can't clock out of your own business. That's the maybe the risk-reward of a nine to five job, which I'm not even sure if they exist anymore, but working for someone else versus having your own business. I sort of already knew that growing up like I did, but when I was younger I kept saying, "Yeah, but that's how my parents did it. I'm going to do it differently because I'm smarter and I'm better and I'm faster." And that has all proven to be untrue.
Marcus: It doesn't matter if it's Saturday morning and you just ran to the grocery store to get some milk in your PJ's or what. You're still your business. If you run into somebody and they see you or if you're struggling with some issue and it's keeping you up at night. Those are all-
Brent: Still your business. If it's Christmas Eve and you need to get something out, guess what? You're working on Christmas Eve.
Marcus: Unless you really don't care about the business, in which case you won't be in it long. All right. What do you like to do in your free time?
Brent: Free time. What is that?
Marcus: Yeah. That's usually the answer that I get. Occasionally I will actually get an answer. They're like, "Occasionally I like to go the beach or I like to go fishing." Or something like that, but most of the time I find it just like, "Yeah, I don't have any of that."
Brent: I don't have any of that. Piper and Stevens, my children, like to do a lot with them. Of course, my wife, family. It seems that we're working, we have a couple of dogs, we have children. That is sort of our life.
Marcus: Tell people where they can find you.
Brent: I'm on the major social media platforms at LBM CPA. I have an awesome website at BrentMcClure.com. Email me at Brent@BrentMcClure.com.
Marcus: Awesome. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Brent: Yes, thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure. I'm a big listener to the podcast. My final thought would be, if you have an itch to be your own boss or if you think that the corporate life isn't for you, go ahead and scratch it. Look into what it takes, even if it's a side hustle for a while. Not everyone's made to be an entrepreneur, but at least give it some time or you will be miserable for the rest of your life working a corporate job, knowing that 20 years ago you should've started your own business.
Marcus: I listen to the podcast called How I Built This with Guy Raz and he had ... Sorry, I can't remember her name, but it was just this last week. When you listen to this, if you're listening to it on the release date, it will have only been a couple of weeks, but I was listening to one of his episodes and he was talking to somebody who had basically built up like $100 million business and then while she's running this $100 million business she's literally started another business. She identified it as a side hustle and said, well she wasn't ready to like jump, she wasn't ready to sell this $100 million business or hand it off to somebody so even at that level she was still-
Brent: Still working on the side hustle.