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October 31, 2019 in ,

A small business owner and therapist paid off $87,000 in debt in 2 years and quintupled her revenue in 8 months. She explains how she learned to 'date her money' to save better and spend smarter.

Nicole Iacovoni paused to look around the wellness and counseling center she was so proud of, founded in her hometown of Bloomsburg, PA. She'd just realized something: It's all gotta go. 

She was only six months into a five-year contract on a 21,000-square-foot, brand-new construction building she'd leased to expand her small therapy practice into a holistic wellness center. She was $87,000 in debt and losing money on her business every day. 

Winter sunlight streamed through the large windows onto the green walls and woodsy accents she'd chosen to match the name of her business, Willow Tree. Clients sipped complimentary tea and sank into cozy couches on the way to a yoga class, nutrition counseling session, or psychotherapy appointment. But at the end of the month, those couches hadn't seen enough butts to pay for all the services she offered — in addition to yoga and counseling, Willow Tree offered music therapy, speech therapy, and medication management — as well as a chic building and a team of 10 professionals.

Out of her monthly revenue of $9,000, she was paying $3,000 for rent and "ridiculous" property taxes, and an inefficient heating system had spiked her utility bill to $1,000 when winter hit. To pay for all the trimmings of a new office, she'd maxed out credit cards, refinanced her car, and took out a home equity line of credit on the house and three acres surrounded by cornfields where her family of four lived. 

"A client came into the new office," Iacovoni recalled the painful day her epiphany hit. "They were swooning. Like, 'This is so beautiful. This must be a dream come true for you.' And when they said that, I realized I didn't agree with them. Actually this is a nightmare. I can't sleep at night because I don't know how I'm gonna pay for this place."

Four years later, debt free and running a profitable business, Iacovoni wants to share the techniques she employs as a licensed couples therapist to help other people change financial habits, grow a business, and have a better relationship with money. She calls her method "Date Your Money," and says it helped her pay off $87,000 in two years and in even less time (eight months) grow her business revenue fivefold.  

Iacovoni's "Date Your Money Planner" — a 10-page document sprinkled with hot pink hearts, curly cues, and XOXO's — contains saucy advice like, "make time for lovin' up on money so it will love you back." One idea in the planner for a "sexy, flirty money date" includes a romantic getaway "devoted to relaxing, dreaming, and getting in touch with your desires." 

The point of her strategy is to take the time to let your imagination run wild all over your financial goals: "Feel ALL the feels and get crystal clear on what you envision for this passionate love affair with money" the planner states.

It sounds hokey, but taking a deeper look at this entrepreneur's wisdom, backed up by her own story and training in psychology, might just make you want to pull up a Google spreadsheet and give your budget another chance. Here are her biggest tips.

Start where you are

According to Iacovoni, the first thing a young therapist learns in training is to help patients "find strengths" and "start where you are." In the case of a bank account, this means loving your money for what it is. Only have $100? At least you're in the black. $40,000 in debt? At least you have a job and hey, you cooked dinner at home last night — that's a good start.

"When we feel like we're stuck, that's a bad place to begin if you want to create change," Iacovoni told Business Insider. "Ask yourself, 'What's going well, what are you proud of?' That will empower you to keep going."

In the thick of debt, closing in on six figures, pride was the last thing Iacovoni felt. But she knew she was really good at being a therapist. She'd been so distracted with growing her business and working as the receptionist, office manager, and HR department rolled into one that she hadn't devoted time to building her roster of clients. Plus, therapy was the money maker, the service for which she could bill the most compared to the other services Willow Tree offered. To focus on therapy, she had to let her contractors know she'd be dropping their services, and she had to hire a receptionist. Willow Tree now employs three therapists, including Iacovoni. 

Another one of her strengths was organization — she just had to learn to apply it to her budget. "I wasn't making plans for my money or tracking where it was going or using a budget," she recalled. "So that's something that I started to change."

Show your budget some tough love, and find creative replacements

By far the biggest expense for Iacovini's business was her large, gorgeous, and brand-new building, on which she'd signed a five-year lease. 

"I thought it would be good advertising and would generate buzz," Iacovoni said, looking back on that decision with some regret. "I didn't even negotiate. I should've advocated for my new business."

She loved the building, but decided she loved the promise of financial stability more. It was a tough decision, but it had to go. It cost her $20,000 to break the lease, but the difference in monthly payments made up that cost over the same five-year time period. Now she owns her building — a small, 1930s stone house that needed a lot of TLC but came with a $1,000 monthly mortgage payment and a chance to build some equity.

Iacovoni also had to do away with another expensive budget item: paid advertising. She'd heavily invested in trying to grow her client base while fighting the stigma against therapy that can exist in a small town. She sponsored sports teams, made print ads to put up around town and in the local paper, and boosted Facebook posts. None of these seemed to be working. She decided to try direct outreach to medical doctors in the area.

"Doctors are usually the first ones to identify that there is an emotional or mental problem to begin with," Iacovoni said. "I started going to their clinics and trying to form relationships with them and educate them on what I do and how I can help their patients."

Align your spending with your values, and avoid the pull of good marketing

When Iacovini talks about marketing, she describes it as an attack on her lover. (In case you've been sleeping on us, her lover is money.)

"Consumerism and marketing are a threat," Iacovoni said.

What a lot of people don't know is that marketing is not just fluff. Neuromarketing, Iacovoni explained, uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe how brains respond to different marketing stimuli. She said that most of our buying decisions are unconscious neural responses to certain colors, pictures, music, and shapes. 

Many of the ads we are constantly fed are scientifically engineered to push your buttons, a.k.a. your insecurities, enough to make you think this purchase will make your life better.

"It's not about the new pair of boots," Iacovoni pointed out. "It's the feeling you think that thing is going to bring [you]."

Be skeptical of advertising, Iacovoni warned her clients. She recommended pausing to ask, "What is it about this advertisement that appeals to me? Why does it make me feel that way. Does buying that product align with my values?"

Her values, Iacovoni discovered, didn't actually have anything to do with having fancy furniture in the waiting room. When she listed out the hopes and dreams she had for her money, Iacovoni found that "doing what I love, choosing who I work with, [and] helping people" are the most important. 

The first step toward that kind of freedom was getting out of debt, and that was the vision she held onto during the two years she spent getting her finances in order. She changed her phone and internet plans, bought less expensive clothing and furniture, paused all vacation plans, and stopped eating out and meal planned instead. Her family even changed to a less expensive home heating source. 

It was only after improving her relationship with money and cutting out all the excess mistakes, Iacovoni said, that she was able to add back in what she values and decide how she wanted to spend that beloved cash. 

For this entrepreneur, therapist, mom, wife, and dog lover? "Travel, time off, using my financial power for good," Iacovoni said. "Money has a lot to do with my power to do these things."

This content was originally published here.

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