We're re-releasing a nearly year-old episode where Marcus interviews Mari Ramirez, one of Austin's most prolific CPAs and founder of multiple small businesses in Central Texas. Learn how she got her start in accounting, why most CPAs only do taxes and neglect bookkeeping, and how being an accountant actually just means you're a therapist. Also, is Dave Ramsey actually terrible at giving business advice? And just how important is math anyway?
You know that we like to get nitty-gritty and so I hope you brought your therapist couch. Tell me about your childhood. Were you good at school? Were you brought up in a high-performing environment?
I was pretty good at school. I was really quiet. Believe it or not. You know me, Marcus, you know that I’m really loud and I’m very outspoken, I’m very extroverted now, but I was actually really quiet and introverted. I grew up pretty poor when I was young. And so we didn’t really have a lot and my dad actually is a very entrepreneurial person. And so he always had a lot of projects going on and a lot of things going on.
And my mom was a stay-at-home mom. So I absolutely 100% did not want to be my mother. But I wanted to be my father. He was such a role model, but I was really quiet and I was really studious in school. I did run the student store in high school for some time. And that was probably the hardest job I did. That was probably the one thing I did that was pretty entrepreneurial in school.
Were you that like quiet nerdy, kid that sat behind the student store every time? Or was it kind of a fluke that you got into the student store?
Well, by that point, I had already kind of gone through puberty, you know what I mean? I was a late bloomer. Since I moved around a lot, when I went to high school, I finally stayed in that one place. I decided at that moment I was going to be someone I wasn’t like. I thought about all these women that were amazing, and I was like, “I’m going to be them.” So I very proactively acted not like myself because I wanted people to like me. And then also it helped that I went through puberty at some point in time so I wasn’t just like this skinny frizzy hair girl.
I got a lot more confidence and I was on the student council and in high school, I was in every single organization you can think of. So that wasn’t surprising that I was the student store manager for a little bit of time.
Although, the teacher who was the person running the store was like an algebra teacher. And he was very, very particular about everything like inventory. And so he was almost such a hard ass, he was so hard to work for, that it taught me so much about finance and money and running businesses that it was probably the best thing ever.
Yeah! I feel like there are a lot of different, similar types of things that kids can do where you learn some of those core business principles. And some people really gravitate towards it. Other people, you know, get put off for some reason, or it’s just not their cup of tea. And was that the case for you for both business and math?
It’s so funny. I’m really terrible at math and my assistant makes fun of me a lot because she’s so good at doing numbers in her head. I’ve almost gotten worse doing numbers in my head. I do like math, I always liked algebra and calculus, but honestly, accounting is like zero doing numbers in reality. It’s just not. You just don’t. So it’s actually good that I’m not good at math.
But surprisingly, a lot of accountants became accountants because they were good at math. When I meet kids nowadays, I’m always trying to convince them to be accountants because basically that basic knowledge of like business, you can do other things with it.
I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always knew I was going to own my own business. That’s something I knew since I was little, I feel like. And I always saw my dad running businesses and doing things and doing projects. He builds houses. He had a construction company. And so I always knew that’s what I wanted to do, absolutely. Although I wanted kids too, I wanted the whole shebang.
So it’s in your blood which is interesting. You see a variety of different people who come into entrepreneurship. For some people, it’s in their blood. Some people didn’t even think about entrepreneurship as something people did until post-college or whatever. So now, you’re a CPA. You have your own CPA firm, why your own CPA firm versus just being part of a larger firm?
I worked for big and small firms here in Austin over the last 20 years. And one of the things that I really, really, really liked about working at the bigger CPA firms is just that the technology was amazing. And the amount of information, literature, and support you had was just amazing. But it does put you in this segregated duties situation where you only learn about one thing and that’s your profession. Right? That’s the only thing you’re going to do; nonprofit tax returns, that’s it! It’s very segregated.
And so I didn’t necessarily like that. And when I worked for smaller firms, it was just like all hands on deck. I worked for a smaller firm for a long time that helped startups grow. They would help new businesses get started and get things going. They would help them in all aspects of every part of their business; operations, finance, budgeting, that kind of thing.
And I just fell in love with it because it was all I wanted right. Not only to start businesses but then to help other people start businesses. And I can’t show people how to start businesses unless I start a business myself. Right? Hence why I’ve started other businesses now. You just fall in love with it and you just continue to do it. Cause you just want to.
And it also validates that I’m telling people what to do. It’s like, “How can you tell me what to do? You’ve never started a business.” You’re right. I hadn’t at that time when I was younger. But I don’t think I was probably as optimistic or as It’s forthcoming as I am now. I think now I’m like, “No, this is the way you got to do it.” Even have to argue with the person.
I have seen a lot of business since then come and go. They have these great, great, amazing ideas, and then it shuts down. Or I’ve seen people who have okay ideas and then they take off and it has to do with so many different things, one of them being the people that are doing it, but two, finance is a really, really important thing.
So I realized that that is like the backbone of the business. Right? And so if I can help someone learn that part of it, I can help grow any business. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean you have a great business, you’ve got to really build it.
Yeah, like core principles of business, financial accounting, if you don’t understand what’s happening with your money and your resources, then you’re going to be sunk real quick. So obviously you’ve said that you have multiple businesses that you started, but let’s focus on your CPA and bookkeeping First off. Can you tell me I guess your firm’s name, what you’re working on his name, and then what makes you different?
So my whole name is Mari Alicia Ramirez. It’s just Mary Alice, it’s not complicated. You just have to say it in Spanish. Everybody calls me Mari for short. So it’s *Mari Alicia CPA, PC*, professional corporation.
I also have *Open Bookkeeping, LLC*. Really I did it because you know, I would engage with clients and businesses and I would help them. And you know, they didn’t know I can do bookkeeping too. And so a lot of that time, a lot of that conversation was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll help you take over the books. We’ll create a process. We’ll do all this stuff.” And they’re like, “oh, I didn’t know you could do bookkeeping.” And a lot of times it’s because a lot of tax CPAs, a lot of CPAs, which I have nothing against, they will only do tax. They won’t do bookkeeping too.
It’s mainly because they worked for big four firms or something bigger and so used to getting the books already and then just doing the tax and focusing on the tax, which is totally fine. The CPA community is a really loving, amazing community. We talk pretty constantly. I know it’s not cutthroat at all. We share conversations, what software we’re using, what forms to get like, “Hey, are you having a problem with this on the tech software?” But my point is, is that a lot of CPAs will send me a lot of business. They’ll send me individuals, they’ll send me bookkeeping work. I have really great relationships with those CPAs, but a lot of them do not want to do bookkeeping.
So actually surprisingly gotten a lot of clients from other CPAs because they don’t want to do the books, but they want someone with who they feel comfortable because believe it or not, it’s really, really hard to find a bookkeeper. There are a lot of bookkeepers out there. Bookkeeping is really easy, but it’s also really easy to screw up as I’m sure you know, it’s just so easy to screw up unless you really know the background of accounting. Um, so yeah, I mean, that’s really how I got started. And I said, “you know what? I’m not going to be too good for anything. You want me to pay bills, I’ll pay bills. Like what, what do you need us to do? And we’ll figure out something that’s affordable that can help you grow your business, that you can focus on the stuff that you want to do. And we’ll focus on the other stuff that you don’t want to do.” That’s really what I want it to make happen.
So it’s more about business empowerment versus you know, doing your taxes for you.
Well, taxes are a big thing of course. I do like to do a lot of tax planning. I love the news. I’m super obsessed with the news. It’s a problem. I’m like obsessed with tax law and knowing what’s going on with tax law. It is a big high for me. Tax season is a big thing that I’m like, I’m like, “oh my God, it’s January! It’s tax season y’all!” It’s like really hyping up. So it’s a big thing for me in general.
So you don’t dread tax You actually find it enjoyable. Good to know.
It’s hard, to understand. It’s like this big adrenaline thing, it’s just overwhelming, but it’s amazing. And it’s just fun! I mean, it’s stressful. I’m not going to say it’s not, but it’s just something that I’ve been doing for so long. I think I’m probably used to it, but also there’s some, every year it’s something different. I mean, especially of us that have been around for a long time. Like, remember 20 years ago when this was happening, it was just like, so things are just so are just different.
It’s because tax reform changes and the government changes. Information is everywhere and people have partial information and whatnot. And to talk about the technical part of your job as a CPA. Not as much on the operations and business side, but on the technical side, you have to keep yourself up to date. You can’t just be like, “Hey, I sat for my CPA and I’m good.” No, you have to continue to reeducate yourself and know current tax law. Otherwise, you’re not a good CPA.
I think that’s the fun part though. I think part of it is keeping up with it and learning what’s happening. It’s challenging. It’s new, and it’s fun. I enjoy it. Like I said, I’m, I’m a news person in general. So I really like to know everything that’s going on with the state of the world. So that kind of feeds into my news junky ways, like learning all the new stuff. It kind of keeps me on my toes. I think if something’s too boring, I don’t think I would like it, I guess.
And what’s interesting is, you’ve got the very highly technical task of managing the bookkeeping and the taxes. And then you’ve got the operations piece of like, you have your own business. You’re not like in a large firm. Do you find enjoyment in the operations piece as well? Or just the more technical side? Obviously, you love the technical side. And is that something you bring other people in to take care of so you don’t have to or what does that look like?
Gosh, you know, honestly, I try to do all of it in general. Since I’m one person, I developed relationships with my clients really well, and I want to meet with every single person. So that’s the hard part is like, growth is hard because there’s only one of me. Right? So this is like, I have to work more. I have to work longer. You know, I have a team now and they’re great.
And they help me in the background doing things that maybe are more time-consuming. Creating processes around things to make them faster and more efficient. We’ve created a lot more processes on our bookkeeping side so things are a lot more streamlined. That way I’m not really focusing on the data entry on the regular, it’s more, a higher level looking at what things are happening, how things are going, tax planning, that kind of thing. So we’ve created processes like that.
My assistant has worked for me for the last seven or eight years. So she’s worked a long time for me and we’ve kind of gotten into this rhythm. I mean, we have other team members too, but she’s the one who’s been working with me the longest. We’ve come into this rhythm of these little things that she could just get done faster than me. And things that I haven’t done in a few years, she’ll do. But when she’s gone, I’ll have to jump in, and no big deal. I’ll jump in wherever I’m needed. That’s always a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge for every entrepreneur in general.
Oh, for sure. Well, it looks different for each type of entrepreneur. Especially early stage, you’re maybe your own salesperson and you have to do some of the technical stuff and you also have to manage the business and whatnot. But then also that’s the whole point of having a CPA or different individuals that you can bring in and take care of that for you. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, it sounds like you’re finding that balance. You found that balance and you’ve had your own firm for how long?
Oh, gosh, since 2011. So, oh my God. This year will be 10 years! That’s crazy!
To come back to something you mentioned before, what does growth look like? Especially for a single individual CPA. I imagine you could bring on another CPA or you can keep finding delegation pieces or whatever, but you’ve also talked about Open Books and using that as a strategy for you to expand your business as well.
Right. It’s interesting because I do have a slew of CPAs that I love. And some of them work for the industry. Some work in other private CPA firms. Some of them worked for big four firms, and some of them have their own firms. In accounting in general, there are just not a lot of accountants. So it’s just one of those industries that is super in need right now. I’m like, “Why don’t people just do this part-time?”
But, we live in a capitalist society and you can just walk out the door and start a business yourself. But if you don’t know those business terms and how to actually run the finance side, it’s really hard to continue to stay open and be practical. And so the financial education here in the United States versus the fact that you can open any business. There’s just a huge gap between financial education and entrepreneurship, which is weird. So I do a lot of connecting that gap for my entrepreneurs, but at the same time, also trying to convince younger people, where I’m like, “Listen, we need accountants!”
Yeah, well, it’s one of those things. Like I had to take principles of financial accounting and stuff like that for my business minor, but besides some of those basics, most of my, “financial literacy” came from self-teaching, whether it was books or like just really digging into Credit Karma or different things. It’s all stuff that people just aren’t taught. I even had parents that were financially illiterate, but you know, some of that gets passed on and some it doesn’t.
My 21-year-old son couldn’t write a check the other day. And he was telling me, “I know biology terms, but I don’t know how to write a check.” And I’m like, “What?” My mind was blown and I’m like, “His mom’s a CPA! You can’t write a check?” It’s funny because I feel like it’s just a big piece of missing information in today’s society. I don’t know why. And then people have to go to like someone like Dave Ramsey and you know how much I dislike Dave Ramsey. I can say that openly.
It’s interesting knowing his background and this applies to anyone who has a specific lane that they really push, go understand where they came from because you’ll understand why they suggest something a certain way.
Marcus, that’s such a good point. This is why you ask about my childhood.
I was reading a business-oriented book and I disagreed with some of the principles the author had put down in it. And I actually met with the guy and in talking to him, I was able to kind of pull out like, “Oh, he was burned because of this thing, so now he tells everyone not to do that.” Even though that’s not necessarily true.
So in the last couple of minutes, let’s talk about relationships. You mentioned it before, there’s a highly relational aspect to when you have your own personal CPA, especially for business. And people care a lot about money and they’re very private about money. And I think, especially for entrepreneurs, it’s a touchy subject and you’re like, “Here, let me dig into all of your money and like tell you what It looks like.” Has that been an issue? Is that something that comes off as trust?
I become everybody’s therapist. Everybody tells me all their problems, everything that’s happening. Part of it is that I have these relationships with clients, I talk to them every month or every quarter pretty regularly. And then they tell me what’s going on. I also have a rule (and I’ve been doing this since when I worked at a bigger CPA firm) where the client wouldn’t call us when something major was happening. And then they would make decisions without calling because they didn’t want to be billed. And they didn’t want a lawyer bill for 15 minutes. And then, later on, they would say, “I did this.” And I’m like “what? What do you mean you did this? Why didn’t you call me?”
So now I have this rule, any phone calls, texts, emails, I don’t ever charge for any of those things, no matter what. Because it’s one of those things that I want people to communicate with me. So it becomes a lot of communication between my clients and I want them to be very communicative with me, my team, and what’s going on. And so it’s a lot of relationship-building. If I wasn’t friends with them already, I’ve become friends with them. All my clients are my friends, which is amazing! It’s an amazing job. I’m basically helping my friends, but I do know how much everyone’s making. So it works out really well because knowing where everyone’s at kinda lets me help other people become better. If that makes sense.
Do you think it takes a special personality to be able to have all this insider information and not leverage that against them or like feel weird about that relationship knowing that?
If anyone came to me and said, I need help with this, I would help them for free if they didn’t have the money. So I guess I don’t judge.
That’s a special kind of person!
My point is that I’m going to help anyone. It’ll come back to me somehow or another way. You know, it’s funny because some of the richest people I know don’t make a lot of money. They may have a lot of money, but they don’t really make a lot of money. There’s a huge difference between the two. Right? So sometimes the people that make a whole lot of money, but then they spend a lot, they don’t really have a whole lot of money. So it’s interesting.
I feel like that comes back to my last question which is the big existential question. The fact that there is limit and supply and limit and demand and whatnot, and you’re talking about Open Books, how do you leverage technology and what are you trying to do to basically, like you said, extend yourself beyond just, what you, as a human being with your 24 hours a day are capable of doing?
Part of my knowledge and the things that I know now that I help people is because of all the years I’ve been doing it. Right? I’ve been involved in a lot of nonprofits. I’ve worked for big firms and small firms. So I’ve been doing this for a really, really long time since I was young. So what I try to teach my employees is that they don’t have to be like me and they don’t have to know all the answers.
A lot of my answers are repeat answers. Believe it or not. It’s like very basic questions. What’s the difference between an LLC and an escort? The same questions come at me a lot. And so sometimes my employees kind of get that information, but if it’s beyond that, they’ll be like, “Let me talk to Mari and I’ll get back to you. Or let me have Mari call you back.” The next-level questions come back to me.
Marcy is the employee that’s worked for me for seven years. She’s come a long way since. She’s now able to answer things that she wasn’t able to answer before. So the more you’re in it, the more you grow, the more you learn. But there are some questions she has to be like, “You know what? Let me talk to Mari about it. Let me get back to you.” And she’ll come back to me and say, “I think this is the answer, but I’m not sure.” And I’m like, “That is the answer!” It has to do with confidence. It’s not necessarily whether you know the answer or not. Right? You know you know the answer, you just have to be confident in that answer.
You know that I am a huge proponent of Notion as a knowledge repository. I think everyone should stash their knowledge somewhere where they can share it.
Marcus! It’s because of you I use Notion now! It’s your fault.
I’m so glad! There are tools out there for us, whether it’s knowledge or redundant processes or whatever else that we can, we can use t help firms and freelancers be able to extend themselves beyond just what they’re able to do in 24 hours. So that’s awesome!
So last question. What is One thing that you wish every entrepreneur could know about managing money?
If you are an entrepreneur that’s not good with money or not good with finance and it goes over your head sometimes, find someone who is. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need a CPA or, sometimes the CPA is just a tax CPA, maybe a financial coach or something. Someone that is good with money to look at that stuff for you. That’s why CFOs are great. I’m not saying, “Hire one!” Because that’s really expensive, but just someone to look at things on a different level than you would. That’s probably the number one thing.
The number two thing is that I love it when people create budgets and to get people to do that is so hard. I’ve started to tell myself, “I’m going to force all my clients to do budgets.” Cause I think it’s a game-changer to put your goals in writing, but in a financial way. I created a budget worksheet that I’m putting on my website as a free resource because I’m like, “Here! Put your budget in this thing!”
And I think that just that goal, seeing where that goal is, and where it ends at the end of the month, makes a huge difference in finances. Because then you start thinking about it, it makes you think about it. So that would be my number two thing. So it’s two things.
Basically, shore up what you don’t know especially in these types of things. And then also, just have data points. Being able to map where you are and where you want to be. That’s huge for everything in life. I’m one of those junkies who’s like, I’ve got my Fitbit on, I’m always tracking how much sleep I got because you’re able to make better decisions when you have a goal and you understand the path that got you there.
So that’s fabulous. We love everything that you do! We didn’t even get to talk about the bookstore or the bar or anything else.
Too much stuff. Financial literacy, education, and knowledge are so important to me. So I think no matter what, I’m glad we talked about this.
Do you mind sharing how our listeners can best find you?
My website is maricpa.com or open bookkeeping.co. I’ll have more resources on that as well as that budget worksheet too if anyone’s interested in that.
Everyone should do a budget worksheet! I love it. Thanks again for coming on!
Thank you for having me!
Mari’s Free Budget Template:
Business Budget Worksheet