Geni Whitehouse divides her time between working as a winery consultant at Brotemarkle, Davis & Co in the Napa Valley and writing, speaking, and tweeting about what some might consider nerdy subjects. As a former partner in a CPA firm, two-time software company executive, and recent CMO of a tech startup, she has a passion for applying technology to solving business problems. She has been named a Top 100 Influencer by Accounting Today, one of 25 Thought Leaders in Accounting, and one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting by CPA Practice Advisor. She is a member of the TEDxNapaValley organizing committee and was the first speaker at their first TEDx event in 2011.
Subscribe to Episode 36 of Cloud Stories. This episode was kindly sponsored by Spotlight Reporting.
In this episode Geni Whitehouse and I discuss:
- The importance of communicating in everyday language that small business people understand
- How bookkeepers and accountants can improve their communications skills and in turn increase their bottom line
- The accounting and bookkeeping complexities found in the wine industry
- Using LinkedIn as a platform to share knowledge with your community.
Contact Geni Whitehouse at:
This episode was kindly sponsored by Spotlight Reporting.
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- Spotlight Reporting creates useful, attractive performance reports quickly and efficiently. Ideal for organisations that need deeper insight and analysis
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Heather: Tell me all about your basset hounds; what are their names, what are their ages, what are they like?
Geni: I’ve just have one, one named Abbie, she’s a female and she is thirteen years old now. We picked her because she was the runt of the litter. We gave her to my daughter for a Christmas present – best Christmas I’ve ever had with my children. My son who is four years older than my daughter, went with me and we picked her out over Thanksgiving and then for Christmas, which is in November, and then for Christmas we picked her up and gave it to my daughter who was about thirteen or fourteen at the time and it was just the best thing for all of us. She started sobbing and we started sobbing and she’s just been a great dog. When I was young we raised basset hounds. We started with one female and then Belle that was shipped to us in a crate and arrived just traumatised and actually escaped at the airport from her crate and ran all over the runways and we spent, my dad went out to the airport I think every night for the next two weeks trying to get her. They tried to catch her, they would call and say we can see her, she’s on the runway, come get her and he’d go over there and she’d ran away, she was just terrified so they finally got her, brought her home and she was a little bit traumatised but ended up being a great dog and she was a prize winning basset hound. My uncle who shipped her to us was a vet and he had had her and sent her to us because there were four children in my family and thought we’d enjoy it. So then we raised basset hound puppies and we had a second female that we kept and multiple litters from both of those dogs, including one litter that was half basset hound and half Siberian husky-
Heather: -oh my goodness-
Geni: -thanks to the neighbours dog who jumped over the fence and those were incredible dogs. Those were just killer because they had the curly cute tail of the husky and the funny basset hound bark and the big paws and just this weird combination of features. But they were great dogs we had. So basset hounds are definitely part of my DNA.
Heather: Wow that’s amazing. I love dogs. You don’t see many basset hounds around where I am but I do love dogs.
Geni: You don’t see very many around out here either. They’re really kind of a southern dog. You know the ones you see on the front porch in the hot humid days next to-
Heather: -absolutely and I’m actually thinking back to my childhood seeing them on cartoons. They had a lot of basset hounds on cartoons.
Geni: That’s right they’re good cartoon dogs.
Heather: Absolutely. So Geni from reading your bio it sounds like you’re a very busy lady and there’s a lot to talk about today. So let’s start by talking about the book that you have out that’s available on Amazon, “How to Make a Boring Subject Interesting”. Why is it important for the accounting and bookkeeping profession to make their subject matter interesting?
Geni: I think it’s one of the most important things that we need to understand as accounting professionals. The fact that we have this strange language, these concepts that make perfect sense to us and no sense to everyone else, makes it hard for us to be valued. The services that we provide as bookkeepers and accountants are very mysterious to most people and the more mysterious we make it, I believe, the less valuable we become. So I think it behoves us if we want to be recognised for the incredible value that we add to businesses so we have to make people understand what it is we’re doing and what we’re talking about and the power of the information that we produce. I think we have to spend a lot more time facing outward with the information than we do studying inward and reconciling and picking and tying and balancing everything. And I think there’s a real need.
Heather: Absolutely, totally agree with you there. Sort of you saying get up from the desk and the numbers and slicing all the data up and talk to people and communicate with people. It sounds like you have a really strong right and left brain yet we’re brought up to believe we’re either good at numbers or letters, but rarely both. Do you think number advisors need to ditch that type of thinking and embrace communication?
Geni: I think most of the damage we do is because of our own self-taught. It’s the subject of my TEDx talk, it’s really that we listen to our own negative voices and we limit ourselves, we hold ourselves back. So I was raised, I always had an aptitude for maths and maths was one of those things that I just really enjoyed. I liked the problem solving aspect of it and my dad was selling tax information to public accountants in my market and so he saw this math aptitude and sort of encouraged that in me. But I had a sister who was an artist, a watercolour artist, and a mum who studied interior decorating in college and majored in home ec, which was what you did as a woman in those days, but a very good eye and very talented creative sort of vibe around her, and here I had this math thing. So all my life I wanted to be a creative instead of a numbers person, instead of this nerdy numbers person, so I always thought of myself in that box. Very much I’m a bad communicator, I’m a numbers nerd and nobody wants to talk to me and I stayed in the background and really didn’t open my mouth very much. Someone asked me recently who let you out of the box and how can I put you back in there. Now I talk all the time. Actually they said who let you out of the bottle, since I’m a Geni they said I’m out of the bottle now to put me back in-
Heather: -your theme song, was it Christina Aguilera who wrote your theme song?
Geni: There are lots of them. Elton John had a genie song, Little Jeannie which didn’t apply, but the genie word was in there. But I think we undervalue our creative brain. You don’t have to be dramatic singers or poets or artists. I think we all have a creative side and we don’t have to be one or the other, we just have to find ways to apply what we have in a creative or different way and sometimes you have to get up from the desk again and look at things differently and I think that was the biggest lesson for me. I really do have this creative angle and it’s really the presentations. The way I come up with explaining something is where my creativity comes out and I never thought about that as anything really valuable or different or even creative until finally someone said that is creative, you’re doing something different. We all have that ability. Everybody you talk to. I’ve talked to so many amazing bookkeepers who have found a different way to do something, who have a process that is very unique, who’ve had a better way of unboreding their clients or explaining the concept or setting up a system in a static environment of software features and functions, finding a way to work a unique process through that. It’s really creative. It takes a whole different side of the brain and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for that.
Heather: Absolutely, that’s excellent. Can you share around what you’re talking about? Can you share some tips on how knowledge and information can be shared in an interesting manner or how can a numbers advisor improve their communication. What do you perceive are the ways that they can do that?
Geni: I think the best thing we have going for us today is technology. I mean when I started in 2000 I started with this message; communicate, communicate, communicate and nobody wanted to listen, especially accountants or bookkeepers. We don’t want to communicate, we want to go back to our offices and add something. But there weren’t really tools to facilitate that. We had PowerPoint and we had some things like that, so people thought if they took their financial statements and recast it on a PowerPoint deck they were suddenly being communicators or they would add some green, yellow or blue to their financial statements or put them in a graph and suddenly all these concepts should make sense to people. But now we have these incredible tools. We have cloud applications. I mean that’s huge. We can sit there and both look at the same thing, we can be tapped into their information real time, which I mean this backup and restore baloney that we’re doing on desktop applications wastes so much time and energy and doesn’t support the dialogue. So now we can do cloud. I mean Xero’s got some great things, their dashboards, there are alerts we can set up but their great tools like Life Plan and other things we can add-on to these environments to really bring it to life so I don’t have to dig through stuff, I don’t have to go through all these spreadsheets and charts and manipulative junk that takes up all of our time, we can just get into the numbers, we can start to understand what they mean and how they interact and then we can break down these barriers and make a difference for these clients. You know no matter how many people I talk to Heather in accounting, every single person is in this to serve. None of us are in it for any other reason. So when we can turn on lights for people and make this stuff relevant and help them get where they’re trying to go, that’s what keeps people in this profession, in accounting and bookkeeping, it’s really very much about that and we’re frustrated when we can’t make a difference to people-
Heather: -yes and-
Geni: -now we don’t have any excuses I don’t think-
Heather: -no, absolutely. I love that phrase turn on a light for people. That’s great and helping them look at their numbers and just actually see what’s actually there is really important and I completely agree a lot of people I think have the knowledge but they don’t share it. They’re like no, no, no…I just do to that level and then someone else will come along. It’s like well who else is going to come along and tell them anything. Like is the magic accounting fairy going to arrive on the desk and tell them-
Geni: -well what I’ve seen, I’m working out here in Napa Valley in California with wineries. I work part of the time with the CPA firm and my job there is consulting. I just go into wineries and do consulting, non-traditional-
Heather: -that just sounds glorious-
Geni: -it sounds wonderful doesn’t it. But it’s really just applying this stuff and going out there and saying here’s how the numbers work. So I get to train people who work in tasting rooms. These are people who are pouring the wine. How they’re activities, their actions connect to the numbers which nobody ever explains to them and you sit down and I say if you sell two more bottles of this versus, so in the Napa Valley we have Chardonnay and we have Cabernet. The Chardonnay is typically the lower priced item and the Cabernet is the higher price. So we show the people in the taste room how if they sell 100 units a day, what it means if they switch some of the lower priced items to the higher priced items. The impact on revenue by consciously trying to sell the more expensive items. They don’t have to sell anything more, they don’t need any more customers, but we show them in a model here’s what happens if you just switch half of the bottles from Chardonnay over to the Cab, look what it does to revenue and look how that affects the bottom line and guess what, that’s what affects your commission that you get paid based on sales and things like that. So it’s taking these sort of disconnected concepts of lets hit our million dollar revenue goal and bringing it down to, here’s what you sell it can do today to take this, to make it real, and achieve your personal financial goals by supporting the company in a way that makes everybody better. It’s that kind of stuff where you just really can empower people to take hold of their own success-
Heather: -yes and I love that you’re talking to the front of house people.
Geni: Yes and we’re talking to everybody but we keep our big messages we can’t do anything unless the people at the frontline, who after all represent your brand better than anything else you think you’re doing, if I walk into that facility and somebody there treats me badly that is your brand reputation at that point. They don’t drive your business results for you, they’re not going to happen. So those people are critical. So we start there and get everybody connected hopefully. I mean that’s-
Heather: -and I think the message, if I’m interpreting correctly, sharing with every single employee in the business how what they can do can affect the bottom line of the business and what they’re doing is impacting on the bottom line of the business.
Geni: That’s right. It’s an action to the financials that we think everybody needs and when you get to that point it’s not hard anymore to drive the financial results.
Heather: Fantastic, so in the community I work within some people can be rich in subject matter knowledge but the way they share the information is quite harsh and to a degree condescending and I think this is perhaps due to their nature, their abrupt nature. So have you come across this and do you have any suggestions for the way they could change the way they communicate?
Geni: Never Heather it must be you.
Heather: Oh okay.
Geni: Oh my god yes-
Heather: -thank you-
Geni: -it’s my biggest pet peeve is that we accountants treat this knowledge as bookkeepers, it’s everybody who has this financial knowledge, we treat it like a weapon and we lord it over the poor slobs who don’t have the same level of knowledge and I don’t know where it comes from, I think it comes from an insecurity. I think it’s kind of the only place where we can shine sometimes is with our gap knowledge which the accountant in the US, our lingo, our debit and credit accomplishments are our one thing we can hold on to. I don’t know about you but I wasn’t the number one date at the prom in high school and I never won any beauty pageants so the only thing I really had going for me was knowledge and so you can see how it becomes this is my thing and I’m going to hoard it and not share it and make you feel stupider than I am because I have this advanced and superior intellect but it doesn’t serve us. It’s not useful and it’s not successful and what I’ve seen is people who act like that are typically the people who say no, I call them the voice of no, they’re most accountants, you invite them to the party and they always say no to everything and so what happens is they get uninvited. They lose their seat at the table, they have valuable input and it is ignored because of their attitude or their tone or just their perception that it’s their job to always shut people down when they’re coming up with ideas for innovation-
Heather: -yes you just summed that up so well. Sorry-
Geni: -that’s okay, but part of it comes from the way we are wired. Most successful accountants are wired to be detailed, analytic and we do a lot of disc, D.I.S.C training communication, and if you look at high C’s that’s the compliance behavioural style and it’s all about data analytics but it’s also a behavioural style that’s motivated by fear. So if you’re coming at any interaction with this fear based motivation of I’m going to make a mistake, and your number one thing is I don’t want to make a mistake, it holds you back from innovating, from doing things that you can’t prove like projections and forecasts and what ifs and it makes you stay in a place where you can be 100% accurate. That is a very small place to stay. Most of the cool stuff is out there in a place where you can’t be guaranteed that everything you say is 100% accurate. So that’s a big shift for people. For the detailed folks are really good at that stuff they need to find a way to get out of that box a little bit.
Heather: Yes, yes absolutely. I so agreed with everything you were saying there. It was exactly some of the stuff that I’ve been thinking. So Geni you’re defined as an influencer on LinkedIn. How did you achieve that status and how would you suggest advisors, the number people out there, use this social media platform?
Geni: You know that was quite a shock to me. LinkedIn reached out to me and I think it’s because of the multiple places where I have appeared and it really started with a blog on a Weebly free website. I was in a software company and I’d been speaking as an employer of different software companies and I had also been on the technology circuit in the US talking about technologies and that was once I’d decided that speaking was really my thing, so I did that and then I was a DP at a software company and in 2007 they reorganised and offered me a demotion and a move back to the sweaty humid east cost of the United States and I said no thank you, I’m in California, I aim to stay here until they kick me out. So I left the software company and I had the good fortune of having a package, which I’d never gotten, where they actually paid me to not work, which is the best think if you can figure out how to work that out. Get paid to not come back to work. So it gave me six months to write my book and figure out what I wanted to do and I knew I wanted to speak and I’d had this book I’d wanted to write for ten years. I knew the title. I knew the subject matter. But I couldn’t do it in corporate job and I couldn’t find out how I was ever going to leave this corporate job, I couldn’t afford to do it. So they basically funded my start-up business but on that day, on the day I knew I was going to be leaving that role and I was going to have this situation coming, I started a website, Weebly, that’s again free, I went out there and didn’t know anything about anything, I just started a website and it had a blog feature built in, you just had to pick a design, a template thing, I just had to start writing, I just wrote some stuff that I thought, I created this blog and I started writing and I knew nobody would read it so I didn’t care if anybody judged me harshly or worried about the graphics or any of that stuff. I thought I’m a CPA who’s going to expect me to have good graphics and nobody’s going to read this stuff anyway, so I’m going to write what I truly think. That was the first time I freed myself to be who I was instead of who I thought I needed to be. I mean I really just said this is what I to write about, I want to get rid of anybody who wants me to work with them who doesn’t have a sense of humour. So then I’d be goofy and nerdy and redneck and whatever I’ve got to be to be really me, and if they don’t like it good. I want the ones who like and get what I have to say and agree those are the kind of clients I want to generate going forward. So I started writing blog posts, I got involved in Twitter almost immediately, as soon as it came out because I needed a vehicle to spread the posts. I wanted more people to read what I was saying. So I got involved in Twitter and I just loved it. I loved the interaction. You put something up like basset hounds, which was one of the biggest things I did to connect. You know you establish something besides the boring professional credential junk that we accountants are trained to put out there I’ve been a CPA for x years and nobody cares about that. I don’t’ want to meet you for that. I want to know something about you as a human being. So I put that stuff out there again because I had nothing to lose at that point and I started putting that in and LinkedIn I used it pretty early on too. I started putting my stuff out there and my job, because I had changed jobs a good number of times and I had lots of people I wanted to stay in touch with at those former jobs, so I was regularly engaged out there too because I was keeping up with people. I’d been at a software company, Navision Software in the US, that was acquired by Microsoft when I was in Atlanta and it was a great experience, it was this incredible start-up thing and we just did great stuff and they ended up getting acquired. So all those people felt like friends and they were still in Atlanta, so I maintained a relationship via LinkedIn so I was active there just because of people moving around and things like that, and also because I’m on the west coast and all of my connections primarily are on the east coast so it kept me engaged with that community. But I think that, Twitter and blogging early on, at that time no accountants were on Twitter and nobody was blogging in the accounting profession. So even though I wasn’t blogging or tweeting necessarily about tax code or FASB updates or any of that International Financial Reporting Standards, although I was pretty active in XBRL which is about as goober as it gets, which is a data exchange standard that was created. Anyway I was still an accountant who was out there and it was rare so I think LinkedIn went out to try to find visible vocal people across different professions and they found me because of all the activities that I had and I’d been listed as one of the top 10 Twitter people to follow by accounting publications. I’d been quoted and written about in different publications because I’d been active in speaking about communication for a while but mostly within companies, so a lot of the press knew me and so I would get articles and mentioned in things over the years so my presence was fairly well established. But I really think it was the passionate blogging that I was doing on my own that got LinkedIn’s attention in those early days and at that time they sought out 150 people and I made that list-
Geni: -I mean it’s floored and I’m just talking about goober stuff here and there’s Richard Branson and some other people and wow. But that recognition, because they had seen me blogging they knew I was a blogger, that opportunity basically was to join in an editorial blog post they would give you the topic and then you would blog on it. So I’ve blogging on my site and then 2 or 3 people read my blogs and maybe I get a comment once every fifteen times I put something up and you’re basically just writing to get it out there and I knew nobody was going to pay any attention. Well I put a blog post up on LinkedIn and I probably got 500 comments and 50,000 followers and it’s like oh my god, this is a whole different-
Heather: -ball game-
Geni: -ball game and people would say we like it and I’d say what, wow, it was just huge. It was this tremendous opportunity and that was early on so early on they would just bring in the traffic because there were only 150 people posting and we had just gotten into the whole publishing thing on LinkedIn. So there was nobody else that they were promoting so even being 1 of 150 even if you were a very low woman on the totem pole it was still way more attraction than I ever would have gotten on my own. So I started doing that and I started writing some stuff and it just blew me away and the more comments I started to get the more the more inspired you are to keep doing it.
Heather: Yes absolutely.
Geni: But then they opened it up to kind of the world and now it’s just so much stuff being published out there that it’s just not the same impact. But that really set me off and gave me a lot more visibility. I’ve got 120,000 followers on LinkedIn now.
Heather: That’s amazing. In fact when I was preparing for this interview I thought it was actually 200,000.
Geni: Well believe me I just checked and it was 120,000, but it’s a lot more than…it just blows your mind, I mean there are a lot of people in Nigeria that are big fans of nerdism.
Heather: Very good. I bet you get invited out for coffee quite a lot with all those followers-
Geni: -you get some weird stuff coming through on LinkedIn with some of the requests, but really I’ve met a lot of people that way and connecting with Twitter and the Twitter community for me is just a fabulous place to be. I love connecting out there and I meet all these people and then I end up meeting people in person and then go I know you’re Twitter handle. Like you do? Cool. It’s amazing how those connections really migrate over into real life face to face stuff.
Heather: Absolutely. So for our listeners listening in, I believe your Twitter handle is @evenanerd
Geni: That’s correct.
Heather: That’s correct and the other day you actually tweeted a series of tweets about readability statistics which I believe is a feature of Microsoft Word. Is that something that you use frequently, readability statistics?
Geni: That is something that yes, I discovered that and it’s one of the ways we can evaluate our communication. It’s one of the many things we can do. There used to be a great tool that Deloitte actually produced called Bullfighter. When I’m speaking about communication I try to bring in technology to help people like me, you know nerds, if we can find some tools that will solve our problem I figure that will help because you don’t just want to be out there and try to write flowering poetry or something. So if I can find a technology tip that I can incorporate in the communication I try to bring it in and Bullfighter used to be my go to tool and you can still find it out there, it’s kind of hard to find. But it was this tool that you could run and it would pull up all the BS in your copy, if you’re using paradigm shift or some of those words that people say over and over. Today things like ecosystem that drive me crazy. We’re all talking about ecosystem and the paradigm shift and all that staff and trusted advisors is one of those I can’t stand. That’s way overused and under delivered by our profession but those kind of things, but it would go through and find the bull in your copy and it would pull up this thing and give you a bull score and it was just hilarious and a great thing to talk about. Well Deloitte ripped that down eventually and it’s kind of died by the wayside. The closest thing to get a metric numerical kind of score is these reading scores you can do in Word documents and it will tell you if you’re speaking to a 9th grade audience or a 12th grade or what it’s doing. So I like to show this in presentations. I run it against something like the tax code, which always come up with 40th grade and 600 years of education to see what’s written there. So I was doing it, I was writing an article and I was talking about how it worked and I kept testing it and I couldn’t get the scores to get any better. So I was just tweening it as I went along and that ends up going to, I start everything now in LinkedIn because I have all this traffic there, so I put my updates on LinkedIn then feed it to Twitter and then that actually flows into my Facebook account which is a different group of people. Typically my Facebook account is much more personal connections. So some of those folks I’m sure were annoyed beyond belief with all the stuff coming over about my reading scores. Too bad, It’s the price they pay.
Heather: What words do you prefer if you don’t like ecosystem and trusted advisor? Are there words that you prefer?
Geni: I just like it to be real, just speak, just have conversations with people. Don’t try to get all this baloney marketing spiel and I did product marketing so I started in Navision building the CPA, the accounting channel for Navision and then I got promoted into product marketing for the product and really it was called product management but it was marketing, so I had to find ways to describe what it was we deliver for companies. So I came up with games and other stuff but I always tried to write in a conversational tone. So you just avoid all that gobbledygook and you just say what people want to hear. I mean it’s an ecosystem, okay it’s a bunch of products that work together. Just say it and that’s what I try to do in everything that I do, just dumb it down to the essence and eliminate the quarter word as we say in the US when a nickel word will do. I don’t know what the equivalent currency is in your country.
Heather: A quarter is 25 cents so we just call them 20 cent pieces and 5 cent pieces, we don’t call them-
Geni: -if you can get away with a simple word use it. Instead of saying use people say utilise. Just say use and I remember having a client and was doing some website development for a CPA firm, just one of the many things I’ve done over the years, and they said we can’t use any contractions on our website. We can’t use…we have to say do not, not don’t and I said well that’s not now people talk and the whole point of this website is to be approachable and conversational and if you’re going to do that then forget it, we’ve got the wrong brand in place. It’s not a real person, it’s not personalities, and it’s not individuals. We again have this thing as accountants that we at all times must be perceived as professionals and that means we don’t use contractions and we wear suits and ties, even when we’re taking a bath apparently. So we can’t use humour because that’s unprofessional. In my own head I can’t be funny because people won’t take me seriously. Well that’s complete baloney. I think the funnier I am the more serious I am because the message actually gets through. Like listen to me if I can wrap some boring topic in something humorous and you’ll actually get the point. So I think it works in reverse of what we tend to tell ourselves.
Heather: It’s interesting, I was instructed by my mother proper ladies do not use contractions and was wrapped over the knuckles if I ever used a contraction and so never used one and then I wrote Xero for Dummies and had to go through the conveyor belt of learning how to write in the For Dummies style and everything in the For Dummies style is contractions. They’re like contraction, contraction, contraction and it was like oh what if my mother sees this she’s going to be so upset with me.
Geni: Just don’t show her.
Heather: But I eventually like peeled off all the layers and now I do. Now I naturally go through and put contractions in because that’s conversational and that gets across to people and that was a very big learning process for me.
Geni: It is, it’s a huge thing for us. We’ve got all this again, this training. I started with Deloitte and there were things like we had the Dress for Success book and all these things on how we wrote and how we spoke and it had to be in the third person and all this baloney and you just put this whole wall around you, the things you’re trying to be and you end up losing yourself. Once I broke through that and started saying here I am, I use contractions, I eat X and I have a basset hound. What do you think about that?
Heather: Yes absolutely. Look, honestly I looked down on people who use contractions and now I do but it was a huge rollercoaster for me to except that contractions, people were still okay.
Geni: There’s a whole school of contraction therapy that you need to take, you need to offer that training for accountants who are trying to overcome their fear of contractions.
Heather: Absolutely. But it was surprising how emotionally upsetting it was. But anyway, I digress. (cross-talk}
Geni: -be conversational and you know I took stand-up comedy training and I can remember over and over again the instructor kept going being conversational and I kept going what the heck does that mean? How do I use that? I couldn’t understand it. But when you watch the best comedians it’s exactly what makes them good. They’re not reading a script or being all stilted in presenter mode, they’re just talking to you like they’re talking to a friend and it’s the same kind of thing with any other communication. You need to break down those barriers and talk openly and naturally.
Heather: Yes absolutely, and in line with what you’re talking about making things easy to understand, I’d encourage our listeners to visit, one of the companies you work for is Brotemarkle Davis and Co, is that the word, and their website is at www.bdcocpa.com and check out the cool job titles that everyone on that website has. Did you have a hand in that?
Geni: Actually the idea was not mine. When I came on board they were just going through a rebranding exercise and the branding/marketing/communication folks had suggested that but at some point, I can remember where my own title came from. I think I had that before I connected with them but I had to come up with a title and I came up with Countess of Communication because it combined counting and communicating as I see, not because I had any royalty in my blood at all, so it just plugged in with what they were doing but I have the good fortune of coming up with those titles when we hire people. I interview all of our new hires, I write their bio and I help them come up with that title and it’s the most fun that I get to have and I get to really learn people’s story in a much different way. So it’s one of the favourite things I get to do as a company.
Heather: Yes and all of them actually look interesting and you’re like oh I’ve actually got something to start talking to you about. So for our listeners that was website www.bdcocpa.com Go and have a look at it.
Geni: And please don’t judge us for our website. They website designer is as embarrassed as he can be by the website, which I did not choose the design and we are redoing the look and feel. It is so clunky and old school and cluttered and I do a lot of the content and unfortunately he gave me access to the backend so I just keep adding stuff and it’s turned into this huge mess and you can’t find your way around it, but hopefully you get the message that the CPAs that work in it are quite an exceptional bunch, which is why I’m back in a CPA firm after all these years.
Heather: Very good, very good. Well you seem to be doing so many different things. So you proudly state that you’re a redneck in California. How did you journey take you from living in the South to working in the Napa Valley? They seem like two very distinct worlds.
Geni: They absolutely are. I grew up drinking Franzia in a box so it’s a very different thing. Boxed wine was as good as you could get because it was big and you could hold it in the fridge and it was always cold-
Heather: -I think boxed wine was invented in Australia, I’ll just interject that-
Geni: Probably was. This was a big old box, we’re talking a big square thing not one of those little dainty thin ones. This was like a big jug and you could drink for days, unless you drank very fast. So I worked for a software company that was headquartered in Pleasant, California, which was basically in Silicon Valley, which is about an hour south of Napa, so they moved me from Atlanta where I was doing the CPA program there and I was also selling a piece of software that allowed you to have a conversation with clients about the numbers. It’s a product called at the time, Accpac CFO, the company was Accpac. From a company that started I think in Australia called Inmatrix and they had this tool that you could put financial statements in and then you could change the numbers and show your clients what they did. It was this huge revolutionary thing that almost ended my speaking career because I got so over the moon about it. I was told I could no longer be credible as a speaker because I was too biased about this one product. So I had to leave the speaking thing I was doing and basically I went to work for the company because I just thought it was this amazing thing and finally this gives us CPAs a way to talk about this stuff in a way that clients can understand. You put in the numbers, you say see this number, if I change this number you’re going to have a worse cashflow than if you just left everything alone. And you think selling more is going to drive more cash. It’s actually going to drive less if you don’t fix any other elements of the business. The conversation I’d had a million times and it had gotten completely glazed over looks from my clients, but with this tool you could explain it and they went oh my god I see now. So just this huge thing so I went to work for the company. I did it remotely out of Atlanta and then the company Accpac got acquired by Sage and Sage moved me to Atlanta to take over a different product, the Accpac product. I still did the Accpac CFO for a little bit but that got sold and they did a bunch of stuff. But then I became in charge of the Accpac accounting software product and I started marketing that and still doing some speaking in the company. But at some point with the Accpac CFO product I found my way into a group of accountants who were doing non-traditional services in the US. It was a company that was trained by a group called Mentor Plus that had been started with the trainer, Edie Osborne had been part of the Ran 1 group which I’m sure you’ve heard about and so she had her own US group and she taught accountants how to do non-traditional service work. She does everything and she’s still one of my mentors and I still do a lot of work with her, but that group she had together, when I brought the software that I had to sell in front of them, every single one of them bought it because they understood how to have conversations with clients. Whereas all the other CPAs that I showed this software to went that’s great, whereas the report that I can mail to my clients, we don’t want to have a conversation. So I was just depressed and devastated until I found this group. These Mentor Plus trained folks got it because she taught them how to think differently and how to be comfortable with conversations and how to facilitate meetings and that’s how I learnt the DISC communication style. So she’s all these tools that she had put together for accountants so when I presented this concept to them they went oh my god here’s the tool that makes what we want to do easier to do. So I became a regular presenter in front of that group while I was at Sage and then when I left Sage they called me and said we want you to come work with some of our members and do some of this stuff that you’ve been talking about and one of these two people who approached me was the CPA firm in Napa and that was again about an hour away, and he said I want you to come work with us, help us do these services and also develop business for the firm with wineries and so I started working with him and commuting about an hour and then eventually moved to Napa to work 8 days a month full time or 8 days a month part time with that firm, which I still do. So I’ve been with him since 2007. But that’s how I got to the wine industry and it was a firm, because they were doing different things, he had been embracing these trainings that Mentor Plus taught for more than 10 years. He was the only member of the group who would come in every time having done things. The rest of them were learning about these concepts and talking about it but he was applying them and testing them and he was making these huge inroads and so he said come do this stuff and I thought, I don’t have to do any more taxes and he said no, no taxes-
Heather: -no taxes. I hate taxes.
Geni: I know. That’s what I did for 15 years. I was a tax CPA, I was a partner in a firm in Atlanta doing taxes when I left and went to technology. So the thought of coming back to a CPA firm, if it had been any other firm and any other opportunity I would have run screaming in the opposite direction, but it really got me into applying some of these things about having conversations and using these tools and what I’m doing now is primarily designing training courses and doing training with individual wineries on teams and communication and connecting to the numbers an all those things. So all the fun stuff that I like.
Heather: That is such a great journey that you’ve taken there and get you to that position. So I’m a really big advocate of working in niche industries, which is exactly what you’re doing there, what workflows do you think are important in the wine industry that you perhaps don’t see elsewhere?
Geni: The thing about the wine industry is it is basically got every kind of business imaginable in there. There’s a manufacturing element, there’s a farming element, there’s a retail element and a wholesale distribution element and it’s very complicated. It’s about the most complicated thing you could do in my opinion because first of all you’ve got to rely on nature, weather for your crop and your harvest, you have this whole farming and it’s highly organic too and these all these rules and then you have all this compliance and regulatory complexity you have to deal with. You have manufacturing that you have to figure out how to manage, you have storage issues and challenges and warehousing and then you’ve got point of sale. You’ve got point of sale systems and applications, you’ve got ecommerce applications you’ve got to support and hopefully you can bring all this data together and know who you’re customer is and what they’re buying. Now I’m here to tell you Heather that it’s not all figured out. It’s one of the things that’s also really attractive to me about this wine industry is they’re still very far behind when it comes to technology-
Heather: -that’s interesting-
Geni: very far behind and they’re living with unbelievable pain when it comes to their systems and processes.
Heather: What’s their internet connections like in the Napa Valley?
Geni: The connections are fine, it’s just the tools. They’re doing all this work in spreadsheets trying to bring the data together, they are manipulating it, the systems don’t connect, they’re using desktop applications still primarily but disconnected. Their main bread and butter application is the point of sale product and I don’t know if you’ve seen this but from my career those are always difficult applications. It’s not a great one, it’s a very fragmented market in the wine industry, there’s not enough companies for somebody to come in and really fix it for not enough dollars, so it’s a combination of cobbled together applications, we’ve got a number of small businesses here who built applications without really the capital to keep the development state of the art. So they end up with these lagging applications and people figuring out how to get the data from one application to another. It’s kind of stuff that just makes me eyes roll back in my head when I see what people will tolerate. There are great systems like Xero or QuickBooks online and things like that but still the point of sale is the gate that you can’t get through, because we have wine club requirements and some weird things and the system pieces aren’t all there yet.
Heather: That’s interesting. I did just come across another solution which maybe you’ve come across or not called Vinsight which is a cloud based solution that integrates with Xero and it says inventory production and sales, but I’m not sure whether that’s point of sales. I will need to investigate.
Geni: Yes, point of sale that’s really the kicker for most things because they’ve moved to what they call a direct consumer model which is retail, so they all have tasting rooms and they need a point of sale application that will do what they need to do, integrate with the customer data from the website stuff and there’s a whole bunch of complexity, and I’ve looked at everything that I can find but it’s difficult and they’re still primarily using desktop applications. They’re either installed desktop applications or they’re on this big one that is an old development environment that is completely integrated. It’s like almost a mainframe application that people are still using out here. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it Heather, you’d have a heart attack. But it’s got all the modules in one big behemoth and they’re still using that or low in stuff or there’s some actually some Navision applications which is one of the other funny things. I mean I worked for Navision, I left there in 2001 and in 2000 I had partners come in and say we’re going to fix the solution of Navision for the wine industry and I remember going yay. So I thought when I got here to the wine industry Navision would own the whole wine industry and everyone would love it. It’s a high end product and it’s built for customisation, so Microsoft owns it and so there were partners who had been implanting it in the wine industry and I got this response of yes don’t talk to us about that, none of us are happy and it ended up that there were less than fabulous implementation so people were using it and the ones who did, didn’t like it. So here I was all happy and excited about the software I’d had a part in getting to the US and people weren’t’ going to hug my neck as it were in joy with a product that wasn’t’ working. But I don’t know about you Heather but I found that you can take even the best application and destroy it with a bad implementation-
Heather: -oh absolutely, yes-
Geni: -there’s only so much you can do with technology-
Heather: -absolutely, absolutely. So thank you so much for talking with me today Geni. Can I just ask you one last question. What do you think the next 3 – 5 years hold for you?
Geni: That is a good question. I’m trying to figure that out now. You’ve got to constantly be evolving and adding skills and one of my goals is I did a lot keynote presentations last year and one of my goals and I’ve actually put this out on my LinkedIn post, what I’m trying to do is I want to go more international Heather. So I want to speak in countries outside the US in my message so you can help me with that
Heather: -I will help you-
Geni: -and I want to reach more people. I want to do more on the business side so I’ve spoken at all the accounting and technology shows in the US, the big ones, but I’ve kind of said enough that people are sick of me and now I want to do more speaking directly to businesses about what to expect from their accountants, because I want to drive the business people to the accountants who get it. I want to start helping make those connections because I don’t’ think our customer base appreciates the accountants who are doing things differently or even know that they exist, so I want to help with that promotion to get more people expecting more out of the accounting and bookkeeping community so that the people who are already delivering can get the customer traction that they deserve.
Heather: I’m wondering if you can do like a wine industry tour of the world and embrace both sides of that.
Geni: That’s one of the things I would love to do that. I mean because the skills I’ve acquired, when I do some training I work with a company called Wise Academy, I’m one of their instructors, it’s part of what I do in my CPA firm job they outsource me. I’m hired to speak at Wise Academy and that is wine industry sales education and I wrote a finance class for tasting room people that is an 8 hour class and I take people from not understanding accounting and hating accounting to analysing winery financial statements like an MBA student at the end of the 8 hour class, and that training is something that I think every winery should have access to and the Wise I know is spreading internationally. She’s a, the company is started by a very entrepreneurial brilliant woman named Lesley Berglund who has a Harvard MBA and kind of does things internationally anyway, so she is spreading it already. I know she’s done some stuff in New Zealand but the finance day is the piece that I do of her curriculum and I do it in my usual goofy way.
Heather: Absolutely, well there’s plenty of wineries here in Australia and in New Zealand. There’s a few up where I am but possibly more down around the base of Australia there’s some wineries. In fact I’m actually going to a winery twice this month because the local winery holds concerts so I’m going to see Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty-
Geni: -oh wonderful-
Heather: -at a winery-
Geni: -Right, we’re going to talk to him about accounting.
Heather: Well he’s certainly got some money to be counted. So thank you so much for talking to me today. How can our listeners get in contact with you?
Geni: They can follow me on Twitter or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org they can visit my website www.evenanerd.com I’m on Facebook, I’m on LinkedIn, hopefully my contact information is available there to you. I think you can click the contact button and email me, but it’s email@example.com
Heather: Absolutely and so if someone out there wants Genie to come and talk internationally on this subject please get in touch. Thank you so much Genie.
Geni: It’s been an absolute pleasure Heather. Thank you.
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