Lacey Banks McGill is a Business Advisor at the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center. She runs the Women’s Business Roundtable, a mentoring program for women business owners that’s provided through the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford, oversees a new mastermind program for established businesses, and meets with business owners one-on-one.
Earlier in her career, Lacey worked with several MBAs to help launch their startup. “I did a lot of number crunching to help them develop their financial model,” she recalls. “Because I am a strategic thinker, I got pulled into that aspect of the business—and I figured out I was quite good at it. I was just hooked. I love working with entrepreneurs.”
Lacey has worked with entrepreneurs ever since. “It’s funny because I’m not an accountant or financial person,” she notes. “I learned to do financials by working with the startup and the MBAs—and teaching myself. So, my approach to helping companies with their financials is more from the perspective of a layperson than as an accountant or a financial person.”
A Visioning Process
Regarding the way she interacts with business owners, “It’s a much friendlier and relatable approach,” Lacey says. “It’s a creative visioning process.”
She recognizes many business owners fear uncertainty, and she tries to make the process more attainable for her clients.
“I sometimes forget how afraid people are of the process,” she admits. “I’m always astounded at the number of people who come to me with what they consider to be a business plan—but they don’t have a sense of financials because they are intimidated by the math.”
She continues, “If you’re running a set of financials, the most complicated thing most people have to do with a straightforward business is divide! So, it’s not really the math people are afraid of, it’s something conceptual.”
The process involves introducing business owners to using a template to run a business model. This helps them see their bottom line and what it will look like in various scenarios.
“I’ve been through the process of running financials with many business owners. It’s always heartening to see when people really get a hold of their own financials and start to use them,” says Lacey. “And I love when I see someone who was afraid of their financials really start to implement planning tools.”
The Entrepreneurial Learning Curve
What does Lacey enjoy the most about working with entrepreneurs?
“There is something different every day,” she says.
Her clientele involves business owners from many industries. “Inevitably, someone is going to ask me something specific about their industry—and I don’t know the answer,” she admits. “And entrepreneurs encounter that all the time because they are always on a learning curve.”
She adds, “If your business is growing, moving up market, or expanding, you’re going to be on a learning curve. You shouldn’t feel inadequate because you don’t know something. You’re always going to not know something. One of the best skills you can learn early on is how to find information—it’s not so important to already know everything,” she emphasizes.
Continuous learning is key. “I’ve been astonished by the number of times people come into my office not knowing something and by the end of the counseling session I’ve learned something new,” Lacey says.
“Sometimes people ask me: How do you know all this stuff about different businesses? I say: I don’t! I go and figure it out. That’s what you must do as an entrepreneur.”
Not only must entrepreneurs find the appropriate resources, they must leverage them.
“In most business cases, you are not reinventing the wheel,” underscores Lacey. “It’s very uncommon for someone to have such a unique business that they are re-creating everything. Tons of information is out there about the best practices in your industry; learning how to access it is the biggest thing.”
Marketing is an ongoing challenge for business owners. More specifically, content marketing and digital marketing.
“It’s one of the biggest hurdles these companies are facing now. Before, every business owner didn’t need to be a writer or a social media expert,” Lacey underscores.
“If you don’t have any online presence now, it’s almost like you don’t exist. It doesn’t matter if your business is consumer-based or business-to-business. Your potential customers want to get a sense of your brand, what kind of business you are, and what kind of services you can provide them—if they can’t tell, they’re going to move on,” she says.
“Even if you are doing a good deal of business offline—pounding the pavement, networking, and getting a word-of-mouth references—the first thing a potential customer will do is get online and start Googling you,” says Lacey.
“It’s not just how people find you, it’s also how they start to vet you and see if they want to be your customer,” she adds. “They want to read some of your content and get a sense of your business. And then, by the time they get to your website and contact you, they are ready to buy. They have already shopped.”
The challenge is helping business owners develop this competency. “The first step is to have a good understanding of your customer, their needs, and how they consume information,” Lacey acknowledges.
“It’s really about knowing your audience and delivering the right message to them. You don’t necessarily need to be posting on social media all day,” she says. “You do need to connect with your potential customers. You need to create content that builds your credibility, gives your customer the information they need to make a buying decision, and provides a sense of your brand.”
Lacey’s approach to advising business owners is threefold:
- Focus on using financials and different scenarios to plan your future
- Understand your target customers
- Get visibility and engage
“Those are the foundations. Once you get the foundation set, the next step is to look at your business trajectory,” she says.
“I have a lot of clients who have moved to that phase. They want to take their business to the next level. They want it to be salable or they want to bring people in to manage the business so they can do other things,” explains Lacey. “That’s the set of challenges I’m really interested in working on now with my clients.”