Rob Stephens | Founder of CFO Perspective
Success leaves clues.
Finance Strategists sat down with Rob Stephens, founder of CFO Perspective. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the lessons he learned while running the business.
Who is Rob Stephens?
Q: Who are you and what’s your background?
I’m Rob Stephens, Founder of CFO Perspective. I’ve served as the CFO for two banks and a health clinic system. I was also Director of Operations at a $4 billion bank and SVP of Finance of a $2 billion credit union, where I was Program Manager of an investment advisory group.
Sometimes I worked at small companies where I was a “jack of all trades and master of none.” Other times I was at medium-sized companies where I could focus on areas like company strategy, profitability analysis, KPI dashboards, and cash flow analysis.
I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in personal financial planning, and a graduate certificate in financial therapy. I teach the entrepreneurial finance class to MBA students at Gonzaga University and will be teaching behavioral finance this Fall. And, yes, I’m a CPA.
That experience allows me to work with a business owner on their company while understanding all aspects of their financial life – both professional and personal. The line between personal and business is slim to nonexistent for many small business owners.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?
I like to kid that my grandpa was a small business owner, my dad was a small business owner, but I rebelled and became a CPA. My grandpa (my mom’s dad) owned a small engine repair company in a small town. My dad owned a small high-tech company. Both worked hard and eventually owned their own business. It was part of the inspiration for me to work hard and learn over the past couple of decades. Now, I can take what I learned to help small business owners like my dad and grandpa.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself when you were in your twenties?
I used to imagine a career like hiking a mountain. I thought I would slowly and continuously work my way to the top. Any slip would be a massive setback and could prove fatal.
Now, I’ve gone through so many peaks and valleys. Each makes me stronger for the next. Sometimes I’ve seen my peers tackle some really big mountains. It’s impressive, but it’s not the path for me. There are many paths to where you want to go. Now that I’ve traveled some of them, I can be a guide for others.
Q: What is CFO Perspective?
CFO Perspective provides financial education and consulting to small businesses. I help small business owners manage their business finances to achieve their personal goals.
I do this through online courses, coaching, and consulting. This allows small business owners to get CFO insights without paying CFO salaries. I help them with strategic planning, financial insights, and management process guidance.
A business owner is often a visionary entrepreneur, sales expert, or master technician rather than a logistics expert. They have vision and skill but need someone with high-level financial management skills to turn their ideas into business success. They know how to build a product or provide a service, but aren’t as experienced at managing a business.
I boil down my process to the words: clarity, vision, and cash flow. It starts with complete clarity about the purpose of the company. In other works, how does the company serve its owners, customers, and employees? The company’s purpose creates the vision of where you want your company to be in five years. That vision leads to a plan that produces the cash flow to achieve the goals of the business owner.
Q: What makes your company different from its competitors?
Financial decisions are deeply influenced by our beliefs about money and how we’ve defined the purpose of our life and our business. Business is also all about relationships.
A CFO helps set strategy and analyzes decisions. As a coach or consultant, I help owners clarify what they want to achieve, gather the information and tools to make that decision, and guide them through the analysis of the decision.
Some owners just want someone else to “deal with the numbers.” However, many businesses don’t have the cash flow to hire a CFO. Even worse, others ignore their finances and wonder why their business produces no cash flow or profit.
I help business owners build a business that serves their personal aspirations. My financial therapy background helps me work with clients to clarify their priorities and how their business can support those priorities. My CFO experience gives them the tools and guidance to make smart decisions for their business. My experience with behavioral finance helps them avoid the common decision-making mistakes.
Q: What led you to start CFO Perspective?
I sat on loan approval committees or problem loan committees at banks for years. The collections department of a $2 billion financial institution reported to me. I also approved loan pricing at one company.
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of how small business owners handled their business and personal finances. I want to teach owners the good, and how to avoid the bad and ugly.
I started my masters degree in financial planning and the financial therapy graduate certificate to help couples that were fighting over money to help the members of the credit union I worked for at the time.
I took the personal financial knowledge from my degree, the observations I made of bank customers, and combined that with my corporate financial experience. This allows me to understand all aspects of a small business owner’s finances and what they want from their company. My focus is helping them better manage their business.
Being the owner or CEO of a small business is a lonely job. They have to make big decisions with small budgets. Many don’t have the training to make the financial decisions they are forced to make. I wanted to help those small business owners.
I did my whole master’s degree online via Zoom. I knew there were ways to use technology like Zoom to help lower the cost of working with small business owners. When I started my business, I was concerned that people wouldn’t be comfortable with Zoom or other online meeting apps. And then COVID hit. It instantly changed how we all work.
My passion is to take the financial knowledge small business owners need and deliver it to them via Zoom meetings or online courses at a price that fits their budgets. I want them to have the tools to make good financial decisions and achieve their goals.
Q: What has the experience of building the business taught you?
Starting a business is tough. Building a client base is a long process. Everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as I first thought.
I have a hundred different things I want to do with the business but limited time. Prioritization is a key discipline. I also have to be comfortable creating things that are “good enough.” That’s tough for a perfectionist like me. I then improve them as I get more feedback from clients.
Helping small business owners has also been very rewarding. I just got an email from someone I’ve never met. They were saying how helpful my website has been for them.
I love giving clients more than just tools and knowledge. They need encouragement and someone to listen to them. A popular saying is “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I focus on multiple levels to help them achieve their definition of success. Doing so fulfills my definition of success.
Q: Where do you see things headed for you in the next 5 years?
Building more courses and packaged services will keep me busy for the next five years. The courses are for owners who want to make a small investment to greatly improve the financial management of their company. The return on investment for these owners is enormous.
I’m also working on service packages for owners who want customized tools and guidance for their business.
For example, a course on cash flow management would come with a standard cash flow template. A second-tier pricing gives them a cash flow template that’s customized to their chart of accounts. I work with them for two hours doing the projection in the custom template for a third-tier pricing. Owners can decide what fits them best.