Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

How many people enjoy paying bills and taking care of the myriad details of personal finance? Not many... but Alison Salisbury does, so the entrepreneur turned a personal skill into a thriving small business.

“I’m known as a daily money manager,” Alison says. “It’s a fairly new industry on the West Coast, but it’s much more common in the east. Daily money managers are like personal financial assistants: We help people pay bills, open and sort mail, reconcile check books, organize tax records... all the paperwork of running a household.”

Think of her small business as household financial administration; she does not offer financial planning or investment advice.

So where did the idea for starting her small business come from? “I’ve actually done it all my life,” Alison laughs. “In my former career I worked in financial administration, and my former husband was a professor and owned a business – so I know all about being in a two-income family with kids and a nanny. But then I was a stay-at-home mother for eleven years, and it was hard for me to get back into the regular workforce; every time I applied for a job I was told I had too much experience... which I think is secret code for ‘we would have to pay you too much.’”

A conversation with her ex-husband turned on the entrepreneurship light bulb. “His taxes hadn’t been paid, his bills weren’t getting paid... he said it was a mess. He had hired two professional organizers to come in and straighten things out, and according to him all they did was put papers in different piles, tell him what to do... and leave. I realized someone needed to actually work the piles – and if I did, people would be happy to pay for the service.”

Instead of seeking to purchase a franchise or an existing small business, the entrepreneur set up her own company – even though it was her first foray into entrepreneurship and small business ownership. After graduating with an Art degree, she helped artists write grant proposals. Later she spent a number of years at MIT as a grants administrator for the Arts Council and then as the administrative officer for the anthropology and political science departments.

“The funny thing is I majored in Art because I didn’t think I was good at math,” Alison laughs. “But once I started working it was all budgets and proposals and numbers... I guess I was destined to work with numbers.”

But when she returned to the workforce she became a teacher, putting herself through graduate school and earning her teaching credentials. She taught fourth grade for two years and transitioned into a curriculum development role, developing tools to help high school and college-bound kids learn the fine art of personal financial management.

Still the entrepreneurship fire burned. “I bounced my small business idea off a lot of people and not one person said, ‘What, are you nuts?’” she Alison explains. “I’ve started to make money and I love working with people at an intimate level – the amount of trust they put in me is inspiring.”

She did have sleepless nights early on, though. With the help of Guidant Financial Group, Alison bypassed traditional small business financing by using her retirement funds to invest in her business. “I can see that if I just keep doing what I’m doing I’ll not only pay that investment back but will also grow my retirement savings at a faster rate.”

So who is a typical client for Fiscally Fit? Alison targets the upper middle class demographic. While many of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s clients are local, using online tools she can work with clients across the country. “I have a client in the process of moving to South Carolina,” she says, “and since I maintain their household finance online, they are ‘bringing me with them.’”

Since household financial administration is a relatively new concept in her area, spreading the word about her small business is critical. She belongs to the local Chamber of Commerce, goes to Senior Roundtable networking events, and maintains a website. But much of her business is based on referrals from satisfied clients and professional organizers. “Professional organizers tend to focus on handling garages, closets – physical spaces – and they don’t want to deal with paperwork. So I’ll step in.”

“It’s funny. More often than not, I’ll get people organized and they’ll say, ‘This is great – I can handle it myself from here!’ Then a month or two later they’ll call me back to clean up the new mess they made and have me just take over.”

Having the small business owner “take over” pays huge dividends for some clients. Alison explains, “I just went through and categorised all of a client’s expenses for the last seven months. She had plenty of money but wasn’t watching her cash flow. She was bouncing checks and incurring charges and believe it or not she had paid $4,350 in bank charges in just seven months. Not only do I make her life easier – she was amazed by how much money I could save her.”

Her family and friends were also amazed when she decided to start a small business. “They thought it was a great idea but they were still surprised I took it on,” she explains. “My ex-husband calls me the ‘best personal financial assistant I ever had.’ Because organization and financial administration comes easily to me, I never imagined it didn’t come naturally to other people.”

While the economic downturn has hurt some small businesses, it has created an opportunity for Alison. A number of clients turn to her because their income and investments have declined and they want to reign in discretionary spending and develop a workable household budget. “A lot of my clients,” she says, “realize that not only do they need to get their own spending in line, but they need to pass that skill on to their children. That, of course, dovetails perfectly with the curriculum I’m developing.”

And her five-year vision for the small business? Alison hopes to grow her client base and build a staff to service a growing market. “I’d like to have a nice little business where we take care of people but we’re still small enough to know people really well.”

“Sometimes I wish I had a normal job,” she continues, “but then I think about working for someone else and doing what they want me to do on their time... and I realize I love the freedom I have – I really love it.”


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