“Small businesses’ are pivoting in the face of change and still providing a value-add to their customers and prospects. And when things turn around, which they eventually will, those customers and prospects will never forget that.”
If you have questions for Brian or Rob, send us an email (email@example.com) or use the hashtag #AskBrianAndRob on Twitter.READ FULL TRANSCRIPT
Hi, everyone. Welcome to another special episode of the Brand Lab Series podcast. Over the course of the last week or two, we’re trying to look at areas of opportunity to help our customers, our community and the people that we work with on a regular basis. I’m super excited today to have Rob Pasquesi with me from Pasquesi Partners to talk about business planning in a time of an unknown future. Rob, I’m really grateful to have you on the show today.
Thank you, Brian for having me.
If you do have questions, I’d like you to, in the social media comments or on Twitter, use the #askBrianandRob and we’ll do our best to try to see those and either I’ll answer them or I’ll kick ’em over to Rob and he can answer them. You could also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rob, how can people get in touch with you?
They can visit our website at Pasquesipartners.com, which is P-A-S-Q-U-E-S-I, partners, P-A-R-T-N-E-R-S, dot com or our Twitter @PasquesiLLC or my Twitter handle too is @RobPasquesi.
For many years, I’ve known you as an entrepreneur and owner of a business that has been helping small businesses and startups with tax planning, accounting services, bookkeeping services as well but in the light of all this economic uncertainty, in addition to your core services, you’ve quickly pivoted in a lot of really innovative ways to be a resource to help guide businesses through what’s a really unprecedented time. Talk a little bit about your background and how you got to that moment.
Sure. I started the firm about five years ago and the model of my firm was built around these cloud accounting firms in Australia, in New Zealand, in the UK. In these firms, they basically use cloud technologies. They developed these remote teams and use cloud technologies to build their firms. So, I took that model and built my firm five years ago. And what we’re going through the past four weeks, there was the CARES Act that was passed, two Fridays ago and I knew it was coming along. So, with our clients serving the small business and startup community, I knew that this was going to have a huge impact to them. And with the tax extensions being finalized, a lot of people aren’t that concerned about their tax returns, business returns, except those that want the refunds. I decided, “Let’s focus on the paycheck protection loans and the SBA loans.
So, what I did is I contacted my… I have a web developer/designer in Ravenswood in Chicago and said, “Alright, this is what I have in mind for our website. Let’s create a loan summary of all available loans out there for these small businesses. In addition, let’s summarize what this PPP Act and CARES Act and how that relates to small businesses in simple terms.” So, she got on it as soon as that law passed that Friday night and she developed what you see on our website right now, and I created it in simple terms. We’ve got a green button for available loans out there, this yellow button for what summarizes the CARES Act and how small businesses can start applying for these loans.
What’s interesting about what you talked about was a couple of things. First and foremost, having owned a company now for almost 10 years and having had to use, obviously, accounting and bookkeeping resources. So, you were already thinking five years ago, which I know seems like a lifetime ago, but you’re already thinking ahead of how to use technology as an advantage and more of a value for your customer set but what I think impresses me most about what you just talked about is speed. And I know we actually came to meet each other because I attended a workshop you did at 1871 a few years back and I know, at the time, the former CEO, Howard Tolman always talked about, “It’s no longer the big that eat the little, it’s the fast that eats the slow.”
And the fact that you were able to identify something and actually move as fast as you did but also in a way that was a relatively simple. Thinking about that green, that yellow, that red, it broke it down in a way that if someone who was searching for content online and getting a lot of uneasiness inside about, “What does all this really mean for me?”, I couldn’t believe how easily you were able to break down things in a consumable way and in super fast time. So, that speed and simplicity was such an advantage and you still see firms, including my own bank, that was days behind being able to communicate what was happening in the marketplace and even days behind the actual application start of the CARES Act. I know this is always a busy time of year for accountants. I have to imagine you haven’t been sleeping much lately.
Yeah, yeah, very, very little. I think, this past week, it was 100 hours of just pure work but at the end of the day, our client base is the startup and small business community and this CARES Act and this PPP loan is critical for their survival. And I know there’s a lot of accounting firms out there who are still cranking away at the tax returns and we could have done that, that would have been revenue for us. But instead, we shifted and tried to help these businesses as best we could. So, we read the act, we simplified the process for them and we provided additional resources but it was also contacting every banker out there that we knew. So over 10 banks and then we had a contact for each of those banks and then they would provide us updates. So, on our website, we would provide daily updates on what applications are going live, what are these banks looking for and telling our clients and businesses out there, “If you want this loan, start gathering this information now because this is what they’re gonna need.”
Now, unfortunately, this whole process… This is my opinion and when this bill got passed to where things are right now, they rushed it. I wish they would have talked to the banks first and agreed upon, “Okay, here’s what should have been done,” But we are where we are right now, and the launch of all these bank applications. It’s just all over the place and every bank is asking for different information. We hope these businesses kind of get the loans that they need. But to your point, it’s all about speed.
The delicate balancing act is speed is an absolute advantage. That’s why I continue to believe that sometimes small firms can innovate far faster than larger firms. And I’ve had the opportunity to work in both, obviously. And I know you have as well, coming from some big accounting background. But I think there’s that balancing act between, there’s now this persona of how negative the hustle culture is. But I do think that there are moments where you do have to realize, “Hey, if I don’t roll up my sleeves and work my ass off right now I could either miss a big opportunity.” Or in the case of a lot of people right now, you might miss out on the opportunity of a job or keeping your job. I think there are times where you have to realize, “Hey I have to really put the pedal down on the gas.”
And I’ve been so impressed at how quickly you’ve been able to gather a lot of information and really share that not only with your own customer set, but really the broader community as well. That’s really all about this value-add that I think is so important and being… As a marketer, being helpful in a time like this is so critical because all businesses… Just specifically as you know, the paycheck protection program, you’re talking about businesses up to 500. That’s a very large business compared to mine. I mean the range there is a lot. So the fact that you’re driving all this value for this broader subset is really interesting, and I did not realize, which makes sense how you did it, using your network, using your relationships, gathering other people to help these sources for you is really remarkable how you were able to pull that off, and then again, constantly updating your own website, seeing that that was an unmet need in the market. Talk a little bit more about that.
And to your point about this loan is available for small businesses up to 500 employees, you think of a company that has over a 100 employees, that 400 to 500, they’re gonna have the resources to understand this Act and deploy that to their people and their customers. For our client base, they’re 20 employees or less or typically 10 employees or less. So they don’t have those resources, and that’s why we wanted to create what we created. Now, I’m trying to be innovative in these times. One of our clients she trains students on music and different music tools out there. As soon as she saw this Covid and the impact it had on the small business community, she immediately shifted to the Zoom model where she knew she couldn’t have kids in her class, and within a couple of days she shifted everything to these Zoom meetings.
So she kept her revenue model going, paying customers, and it all worked out. And I think this goes to the perception of the small business community right now and what they’re seeing and what our clients are seeing. I think everyone that we’ve spoken to our clients, and non-clients, everyone is optimistic. Everyone is out there innovating. They’re looking at their current model and they’re saying, “Okay, time is… They’re gonna be changing, right? There’s probably gonna be a new norm out there. So let’s look at our model. How can we change it? And at least temporarily change it.”
And going back to your value-add, AEE is doing these brand lab series right now around these topics, which is phenomenal, and I think a lot of businesses like in the travel industry, or event planning industries that are kind of stopped right now. They can’t do anything. So they’re thinking “Okay, how can we reach your customer base, or prospects out there?” So they’re having these webinars, they’re doing these podcasts, they’re doing these Zoom meetings for prospects, but providing value-add content to them. And when things turn around, which they eventually will, those customers and prospects will never forget that.
I would agree with that and you I hope you’re right about that. Whether it be to the business lens or the personal lens or the relationship lens, if there’s one silver lining in what’s a really scary time in all of our lives is not… I think some people are kind of re-prioritizing a little bit what’s important? And I hope that that sentiment isn’t lost once things slowly start to get back to whatever new normal we will be in, but I absolutely agree with you about the need to make some of these pivots.
And as we’ve talked, I’ve been so impressed at how quickly you’ve made yours, and obviously you still do your core services very well. But I think as we talked in our last episode, Episode 94 with Bob Moesta around strategic planning in this time of uncertainty, one of the things that we talked about was… What you can’t afford to do. And I understand, as a business owner myself, why people would do things like this, you’re seeing some organizations of all sizes really pump the breaks entirely, and be like “Hey, let’s slow down. There’s so much uncertainty.” And there’s a bit of a risk there of saying like, “Hey, let’s hunker down and ride this out,” because at some point there will be a normal but I don’t think that normal will be anything like we’ve ever worked in before.
So to your point about events for example. I don’t know if realistically you’re gonna see a lot of events happening the rest of this year. I know we both have B2B tech clients in our portfolios, the idea of sending your employees to a trade show or a road show and setting up a booth and thinking that hundreds or thousands of prospects are gonna come through the trade show right now. I don’t see stuff like that happening. Non-profit struggling with “How will we do fundraisers now that are typically done at event spaces?” So I think the key is going to be there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, but what do I think will change at least in the next few months if not longer, and when we think a little bit about some of this innovation and some of that from a business planning perspective what would be some advice you would have for your customers or business leaders right now trying to navigate what’s clearly a lot of uncertainty?
Right. Probably one of the most important, I don’t wanna really touch on the financial side, but that cash-flow forecasting. A lot of businesses out there, big and small, they’re reconciling their books every month. They’re producing their financial statements, but they’re not really… A lot of them aren’t really looking forward for the next six months. And I think it’s important now to spend that time, look at cash flow that you have on hand and what you expect to spend that on and what you expect to bring in, in terms of cash flow and build that out in the next six months and make decisions off of that. And I think you’re right. I think a lot of businesses just slammed on the brakes, made some maybe irrational decisions because there’s a lot going on right now without taking a step back and really thinking, “Okay, what should we do for the company? Can we keep these employees on? Should we make those product changes? Should we move to new spaces, open new offices? Let’s see what can be done right now.”
That’s important. But I think what a lot of businesses are realizing and we’ll bring this up as we’re talking to our clients is, is your banking relationships. A lot of businesses go to the big banks because it’s convenient, they have a lot of locations. But they’re realizing right now, when you need that relationship and that customer support, the big banks aren’t there. And it’s these community banks, they’re answering calls, they’re talking to their clients and they’re actually the ones that are writing these loans. And we talked to a client today, they got their loan already from the PPP while our clients working at the bigger banks haven’t seen a check yet. And so I think, and our clients are seeing that, the value of a good lender and a good banker is key.
As a business owner for almost a decade now, I can’t emphasize that one enough. And I know that that was even in some of the communication that you were sharing out as well, is how important that relationship is. And that always makes me feel good because to me that’s really the whole advantage and hallmark, if you will, around small business because I think that’s where relationships sometimes matters. There’s no question that big, big banks and big, big businesses have enormous amounts of resource and a lot of talent too. There’s no question about that, but it is just a different thing. I’ll never forget, when I first started AE Marketing group, I was using JP Morgan Chase as my personal bank and I was ready to start and open up a business bank and I got my first check from a client. I thought it was all the money in the world. I couldn’t believe that I had this check. It was written out to AE Marketing Group. And I remember walking into JP Morgan Chase, that’s right there downtown, kind of like the main headquarters, at least in Chicago, if you will.
And I was all excited to bring this check in and meet with my banker. And I filled out all this stuff and then really quickly, I realized, “Wow, that check that I thought was all the money in the world was not even a blip on their radar.” And it took me a while to learn the importance of a business banking relationship and that you can always get that through a lot of great community banks that are kind of scattered all over the country. So that’s interesting. And along those lines, you talk about the relationships, you talk about communication. I think another thing that I’ve seen you do really well, which I think is important either to your own employees or to your customers in a time like this is being able to communicate in a timely manner. So not only have you kind of pivoted a lot of your business in a short period of time, you’ve also done a really good job of communicating that.
And as a marketer, I look at that and I’m like, “Wow, for a tax guy, he’s really good at that stuff.” And talk a little bit about that. What type of feedback have you gotten from some of your customers? And have you found that right niche, right now of what’s the best way to either communicate with them by channel or by frequency? How has that worked for you?
Yeah, so a lot of the responses that I was getting is… And these are from non-clients too, “Rob, thanks for the message. Our accountant has even let us know what’s happening right now.” That’s probably the most common thing. Because I think a lot of small business accountants right now, they’re just kind of focused on their tax returns and getting those filed or maybe the monthly accounting without focusing on these PPP loans. In terms of the communication, we use MailChimp. I did a lot during, in December, cleaning up the email list, so that’s been a great channel. I created this founder tax site, and it was made just strictly for tax information for small businesses. And I kinda built a tool in there for SMS text messaging. So I’m trying that out as well, but I think one email a day kind of frequency has been helpful. I don’t think we received any negative feedback on that because there’s a balance. You can send out 10 emails a day and flood your customer’s inbox.
I’m sure a lot of businesses outside right now are getting a lot of COVID emails from law firms, from other professional service providers. So it’s kind of finding that right balance. But for the communication that we’ve been sending out it’s more of, “Okay, put on your customer’s hat and think of what would be their concern.” I think their concern is, “Alright, when are these applications going live? What are the banks gonna be looking for? What do I need to start gathering now?” And then any other intel that we’ll find, we’ll include in those emails.
I know we’ve talked a little bit about, obviously, the Paycheck Protection Program, some of the CARES Act, how that applies a little bit to small business. What was crazy to me is March seemed like the longest month in my life. And in some ways, it seems like things that just happened a week ago or two weeks ago was a lifetime ago. But I remember when this was first coming about, there was talk about, “Oh, my God, they could inject a trillion dollars into the stimulus.” And then suddenly it became two trillion and some might even say that it’s actually more than that when you kind of factor everything else in, but I think what’s interesting though is, I wonder… We’re still in no matter what, I would believe, for a rocky period of time. My hope is that obviously first and foremost, the Coronavirus doesn’t spread, even more than it already has, and in effect then cost people more lives than it already has. But obviously there’s gonna be some unknowns there, and then with that it’s gonna be some unknowns in the economy. Do you foresee Congress having to step in and maybe look at another round of stimulus?
So with this Cares Act, we all kind of know about the Small Business, the 350 billion. I think there’s gonna be another, you know, a phase four package out there and I know Congress is talking about it. But even with the existing Cares Act on the individual’s side, if you and I, we can contribute $300, and this relates to 2020, to nonprofit, but we can get that… Have our income reduced to get to our AGI. So it’s a nice benefit to us but also to nonprofits. So you stated earlier, the nonprofits they’re gonna be hurt by this, right with less in-person events for fundraising. In addition, those that are… That need to dip into their IRAs, they can do so and not receive that 10% penalty. So that’s gonna help a lot of individuals out. But even with these stimulus checks that are going out, $1200 dollars to those filing single that make under $75,000 and married file joined it’s $2400. If you make 150,000, it kind of phases out after that.
These checks they’re probably not gonna get to these people for the next, it could be four to six weeks. And one of the reasons why is the IRS can only generate, 5 million checks a week, you know, given their current system, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how you know this Cares Act, and the PPP loan program is going help out individuals and small businesses.
I feel like that could be a jeopardy question someday. I don’t know how many people would actually know how many checks the IRS could actually print at any given time. So, you said it was 5 million in a week?
5 million in a week.
Yeah, so yeah I mean do the math on the percentage of people that are gonna be eligible for some amount of a personal stimulus check. That’s a lot. As we start to wind down, just kind of a couple of final questions, one, I know there’s a lot of fear out there but you’ve hinted a little bit too, that there is some excitement. Where do you kind of see, and it’s hard, I know we both live in the city of Chicago and we see small businesses in our own neighborhoods, in challenging times right now, but we’re kind of is your head at in terms of an outlook on all business or startups?
I kind of really look to the business owner, and everyone that we’ve spoken to, our clients, they’re very optimistic, and they’re changing the ways that they used to run their business. And even my wife and I, we live in Lincoln Park in Chicago, we try to support these small restaurants. You see a lot of them that have completely just shut their doors, and said, “We’re not gonna take any orders, and delivery takeout,” and we try to support those restaurants. And those that are open, they’re doing well, right, because they’re taking orders from you know Grubhub and these other delivery services.
And if you ever stopped by one of them for lunch or dinner for a pickup, you’re greeted by this table, and there’s bags beyond bags of orders available for people picking up. So I do think there’s an optimistic viewpoint. I think those that are gonna survive this, are gonna be really ready for the next go-around when everything goes back to the new norm. But I also think that there’s also gonna be industries, there’s gonna be new businesses that are gonna be created out of this. And if you think of like, the depression and the businesses that were created in those days, so kind of like Disney and some of these other companies, I think we’re gonna see that come out of this.
I think I agree with you, and I think I have to agree with you because as a small business owner myself, I know the risk of just running a business at any given time, and this is obviously heightened risk. But I do believe that it is like small business and entrepreneurs, I know it’s a bit of a cliche, and I think sometimes politicians talk and talk too much about it being like the backbone of the economy. But I really believe that it is. I mean I know so many people in my own circle, obviously, as I said earlier, we met at 1871, I’ve got a lot of friends and peers now that are founders, that are trying to run and lead companies and so I can’t help but not be optimistic, in the hope that there is gonna be a brighter future. And at the same time though, I do think, and you had alluded to this a little bit, if you are still too status quo, if you’re not thinking about how to pivot, maybe some of your business, or maybe seeing parts of your business that can kind of die away, because they may not be necessary in the future state.
If you can think about that and be willing to try some things differently and learn from that and not try to hedge the outcome, I think you might have a good opportunity to succeed. And again as I talked in the last episode with Bob Moesta we also talked about kind of if there ever was a time to maybe, not get everything right, kind of like how recording this podcast hasn’t gone entirely right and you knew that your dog would bark at some point, which it did. You know, you kind of have to understand and give everyone a little… A bit of grace, including ourselves. And I think it’s such a really unique opportunity, so I’m glad to hear that that is a good outlook for you as well. And then what would be like one kind of piece of advice that you would give as we kind of wind down in terms of what’s one thing though that other business owners, especially people in that zero to 500, which is a big range, but what’s one thing we should all be thinking about right now from a business planning perspective?
I mentioned the cash flow, I mentioned the banking relationships, I think for a lot of companies, for most of them, they have time on their hands right now, and I think it’s kind of using that time to reflect on their business, and try to be creative, right, be innovative and look at their model and use this time because as you know, as I know, entrepreneurs and founders, we don’t have enough time because we’re running like crazy. And then now we’re hitting this road block, or this downturn, and we have a lot of time, right, and it’s kind of utilizing that time to kind of revisit, “Do we make new customer email lists or do we figure out a way to communicate with our customers? Do we start marketing ourselves LinkedIn? Are we writing articles? Are we blogging more? Or are we creating podcasts?” So those type of things that I think business owners should probably start thinking about now.
Rob, I’m really glad that I could get you on. As you said you’ve been working virtually non stop to try to help not only your customers, but the community of small business entrepreneurs and startups the last couple of weeks, provide a lot of value and advice and content to navigate this really unprecedented time. So I’m glad that you could carve out a few minutes for me.
And for our audience. And I hope that it stimulated some thinking, I hope that our audience feels some sense of optimism and seeing some of the silver lining in all of this. Well, Rob thank you again for being on and thank you for all your steady guidance and leadership in this time of unprecedented economic fear and insecurity. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom with our audience and I hope they really enjoy it as much as I have, so thanks so much.
28:32 RP: Well, thank you, Brian, and thanks for hosting this as well.
Tags: B2B, B2C, CPG, Financial Services, Healthcare, Nonprofit, Technology, Brand and Marketing, Customer Experience, Entrepreneurship, Technology
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