Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs Episode 11: “You Are Enough” with Pam (Balentine) Bell

In this episode of “Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs” I spoke with Pam (Balentine) Bell, CPA, and CEO of Viking CPA Group on the topic, “You Are Enough.”


Katherine Morales: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for being here for our conversation Authentic Conversation with Entrepreneurs, Pam. Pam (Balentine) Bell is a CPA and CEO/Founder of Viking CPA Group. I don’t even know why I looked on my notes, I know that. I know Pam well. She is actually my CPA. So I’ve had the honor of knowing her and working with her and I’m so thrilled for you to get to know her today. But before we do all that, this is our 11th episode and we are talking about “You Are Enough,” something that we all know, but we need to hear it. So this is your opportunity to hear it again and remind yourself.

So this is an Authentic Conversation with Pam, but in each episode I talk with entrepreneurs about really sharing their authentic story in entrepreneurship. So what is that? What is the good and what is the growing that they’ve been through? I feel that these journeys help to… They’re relatable and they help to enlighten that it’s not a smooth path. There are bumps, there are humps, and we keep going. So thank you so much for being here, Pam, and I’ll let you speak now, of course. I’m always wordy at the top. But yes, say hi and please tell us more about You Are Enough. Where did you hear this? What does this mean to you? Let’s start there.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. Any time to be real and authentic, I take it because that’s just what we have to be in life, right?

Katherine Morales: Yeah. Amen.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: The “You Are Enough,” and I really like this theme. I mean, like you said, we got to remind ourselves all the time. And for me, it dates back to my college journey, post-college journey when I was going through the process of trying to get this damn CPA license. That whole process we may have to save for another show, but it’s one of-

Katherine Morales: I’ve heard it’s pretty intense.

Pam (Balentine) Bell:  It’s one of the hardest exams. Some people say it’s harder than the bar for lawyers. It has around a 40, maybe less than 40% pass rate. So a really challenging exam. And so I really tried to start doing it during grad school and I’m like, that’s not a good idea. This is not working. So I tried to get the certification. It’s four parts to the exam. You have to pass all four parts within 18 months. And I was struggling to get that done and it was getting to the point where it’s like, I’m not good enough for this. It’s not going to work. I’m not good enough for it. And then there is a statistic that there’s less than 2% of CPAs are African American or Black people in general. So now it’s like the odds are already stacked against me. This exam is really, really hard and I can’t do it.

And that’s when having a good support system around people who know you for real are like, “Yes, you can do this. You’re enough. Forget the other 98% of Black people who didn’t pass.” At this point I’ve gotten a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Accounting, so it’s not like I don’t know accounting. It’s having the confidence to believe in myself and just get it done. And after passing and taking it and passing it and failing it so many times. I stopped counting how many times I would attempt it. But after having those conversations where people are like, “You can do this, you are enough. You know what you’re doing. You’re good, you’re great, you’re awesome. Just focus and get it done.” Finally got it done. And it was really my last shot. I had one more part to pass. If I did not pass that, I would’ve lost all the other three.

Katherine Morales: Wow. Talk about pressure.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes. I’m like, I’m not doing this again. That was just so much stress and pressure on me. But having a good support system and just encouraging yourself, telling yourself, you are enough. You got two degrees. You’re working in the field. Just focus and get it done. So that’s kind of the first time to date that’s memorable where I heard that. Probably, of course, as a kid we hear it all the time, but none-

Katherine Morales: Oh, sorry. I just want to say it before, there’s such richness in that. Two things really stood out to me, I think. I love that you said… I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, if I heard it wrong, but I feel like the “You Are Enough” – it wasn’t necessarily something that you heard first, but it’s what people around you, like your supporters, your friends, your family reminded you of and then you reminded yourself.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes.

Katherine Morales: And I love that because I think that in entrepreneurship, yes, it’s a journey you take on your own, but it’s imperative that you have people around you who believe in you and support you. I say all the time, I’m so thankful that my husband never doubts me. It’s a godsend. It’s not to be taken for granted to have a partner who believes in you. So I think that’s wonderful. And the second point that… I have to do two, was that statistic, I think the 2%. Is that what you said, 2% of all CPAs, only 2%, are African American?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes.

Katherine Morales: Now you’re part of that so maybe it’s higher.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: It’s been the stat, I think, since the 1950s, I recall, or seventies, something like that. It’s been teetering 2% less and maybe a little bit more, but never exceeded. And it’s a challenge for sure. The barrier to entry in the field is that exam so it’s definitely a challenge.

Katherine Morales: Well, I feel like, I mean, you’re a numbers woman as a CPA, so I feel like there’s a purpose that stats serve. They’re really helpful in some cases. But I think what you highlight here is it can almost tell a story, it can almost build a story that’s untold in your head. We were talking about this before, so I want to… In entrepreneurship in general, there’s a stat, like 50% of businesses fail within the first five years, and it even goes up to 70% by 10 years. So I mean, when you become an entrepreneur, there’s this acceptance and knowing of this elephant in the room, if you will, that gosh, could I fail? Will I be part of that stat? And I think it’s similar, right? It comes back to the knowing of being enough and betting on you, as Nathan said in our last interview.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah. I like what you said about surrounding yourself with people because yes, you can say it to your-

Katherine Morales: You said that. Yeah, you can surround yourself with people. You can tell yourself you are enough. But you always start to believe stuff when other people say it, regardless of how you feel, until you get that confidence level, until you get to the point where you’re like, “I am enough. Thank you.” And now I don’t need you to tell me. Please do keep telling me, but I don’t need you to tell me anymore because I’ve lived it and I’ve learned from it and I’m growing through it. And I realize on the other end, I am enough. And I heard a quote on my Peloton app, and it’s so cheesy.

Katherine Morales: I love it.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah. It’s so cheesy for me to quote this, but this is real life. But they say, “You’ve survived a hundred percent of your bad days.” So regardless of how hard you think it is-

Katherine Morales: I love that.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: You are enough.

Katherine Morales: Peloton quote. Yes.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Right? I’m like, put me on one of those commercials. But it’s so true. It may be hard going through it, but you’ve survived worse, you will survive worse, it will get better. And yeah, that’s what you have to keep telling yourself.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. I love it. So I kind of interrupted you so I apologize. I just had to go in, dive into this. But have you known this all the while or… You are enough. You took us to the test, you passed. So you become Pam the CPA. Hey. But I mean, so in how many years has it been in that journey? Is it just a knowing always that you are enough or are there moments?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: No, it’s always moments and it’s just-

Katherine Morales: Like a little monster sneaking up.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes. It’s always something there. And I always say too, if you don’t have the fear of something, you’re not going hard enough, you’re not going big enough. So just reminding yourself that you are enough when you’re like, I want to do this, but I’m scared, or I want to do this and it’s unheard of, or I want to do this and no one’s ever done it, or no one’s ever done it like you. Because no one is you, you are enough.

Katherine Morales:  Amen. Amen. Yeah.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: It’s like, you don’t want anyone to do what you’re about to do, or do it your way. No one can. They can try to kind of copy and paste what you’ve done, but they’re not you. They don’t have the special sauce. And so it’s not, I passed the exam and now I know that I’m enough. Because I was still working in industry, in corporate and then decided to do the entrepreneurship route.

Katherine Morales: Gotcha.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: That in itself-

Katherine Morales: Came knocking at the door at that time, right?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: That in itself, like you said, your husband is supportive. My husband and I weren’t even dating at the time, we were just friends. And he is my biggest supporter. Even if I doubt myself, from day one he’s like, “What are you saying? Yes you can.” Or no, just that reinforcement. But just going through the entrepreneurship journey and being, one, a Black CPA, that’s rare. A Black female CPA, super rare. And then just being presentable and having personality, in a CPA, that’s rare. So. Sorry!

Katherine Morales: Speak your truth. Speak your truth. I will support you.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: I will find my authentic path of who do I want to be? How do I want to represent myself? How do I want to be client servicing? Just all of that. It can still get challenging because everyone doesn’t mix. Everyone doesn’t like that approach. But the people who do like it are my people.

Katherine Morales: As I say, your Right Someones™.  A hundred percent. So I call this your authentic truth, this You Are Enough. So how has connecting with that authentic truth helped you to ignite your business, to build your brand? What has it done for you?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah. It’s done wonders because as a tax professional, accounting professional, people come to us with all kinds of questions, some not even related. But sometimes if people ask me something and I don’t know, I’m like, oh, I’m a fraud, or I’m-

Katherine Morales: The impostor syndrome.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes, I’m an impostor. Or even comparing me to social media. I hate when people tell me, “I saw on Google,” or, “I saw on Instagram, this, this and this.” And I’m like, “I never heard of that.” And I’m like, “Am I the fraud or are they the fraud?” So in entrepreneurship, when people come to me for advice or specific questions, it’s like, I don’t know. And sometimes that was a fear for me, like how don’t I know? Why don’t I know? Should I know this? And just being authentic with people and just saying, “You know what? I’m not sure, but let me find out for you.” Or, “I’ve heard that, but I don’t know how that applies to you specifically. So let me do some research and some scenarios and get back to you.” Now the thing is, get back to them and answer their questions. But just being real and upfront and saying, “You know what? I don’t know.” And the first time I did that was so much release when the client was like, “I appreciate you saying that. Thank you so much.”

Katherine Morales: I mean, being one of your clients, I can definitely say it’s a breath of fresh air. I mean, I don’t think… Well, I would say your Right Someones™ don’t value you because you just know everything, and oh my gosh, I’m like… You are an expert but it’s not like we expect you to know everything. What we value is that you care and you’re willing to find out. And I think that in certain industries, like I’d say mine, communications, and yours, accounting and tax, maybe even a lot of industries, I’d have to think on that. But I feel that they’re constantly changing, like the tax laws, all kinds of stuff. There’s a new social network, there’s something different. So I think that it’s normal to feel the “impostor syndrome.”

And I put quotes because it’s so famous. It’s normal to feel that. But it is important to do exactly this. The reminder, the reinforcement of, I’ve been there, I’ve done this. And I always think back to the start of my career when I was so green. And you learn by doing, especially in my industry. And so I think that remembering that you’re never done. When you’re done learning and growing, what’s the point?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: What’s the point? What are we doing?

Katherine Morales: And that also really highlights how I see client relationships, that it’s the give and take. You grow together.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Absolutely. Yeah, I like that.

Katherine Morales: That’s beautiful. Yeah. I want you to share more about this CFO-ish thing. Okay, so because I know you, I saw this email about CFO-ish, and I mean, I was like, yes. Because it’s free I’m enough. I mean, connect that to this confidence, this knowing of being enough. And what is it, what prompted it? Just tell me more.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: So for me what prompted it is I feel and I know for a fact if people are in business, they need some sort of accounting solution software system.

Katherine Morales: Not a spreadsheet,

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Please. And you do what you got to do to survive, but-

Katherine Morales: Or a shoebox.

Pam (Balentine) Bell:  Definitely not a shoebox. I got one right here next to me. Do what you need to survive. But if you want to act and treat it like a business and for it to grow as a business, you need an accounting system. A lot of business owners start their businesses not with that framework in mind, not knowing or understanding what that even means, not having the funds to pay for something on a recurring basis.

Katherine Morales: They don’t know any better.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: They don’t know any better and then they don’t think they can afford it so they don’t reach out. All of that. And so with me, knowing that I’m enough to where I can still do the services for my clients and still service people who don’t think they can afford me. So the CFO-ish is a brand. It will be digital brands. I have one course now that’s teaching CEOs who have mastered the operations of their business, their products, their services, but teaching them the financial management of their business. So the first course-

Katherine Morales: Is simplifying and breaking it down.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yes. Simplifying, breaking it down. The first course is teaching people how to do QuickBooks on their own. So maybe you can’t afford someone to maintain it or handle it for you, but you need it. Or even if you do have someone doing it for you, you need to understand what’s happening because you got to take ownership into your business. So that’s how I launched CFO-ish. I’m not teaching people how to be true CFOs, but that’s where the ish comes in. Just enough to where you can have those conversations about your business. Because if you don’t know your numbers, then what are we doing?

Enough to where you know your numbers. And then it may get to a point you may need to hire someone, and that’s fine too. But for people who are starting out and who have the time to manage it on their own, they just need to learn it, that’s what this course and this whole brand and rollout will be, which also took me a long time to roll out just out of fear.

Katherine Morales: Oh yeah?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah. I mean, just out of fear of, oh, will people like it? Is this necessary?

Katherine Morales: Love it.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: What does the industry say about it? Am I taking people’s clients away? Am I taking my potential clients away? And I’m like, you know what? I went into business to help people and that’s what this is going to do.

Katherine Morales:  I mean, I absolutely love it. I mean, the CFO-ish alone, that title is so you. It’s fun and it’s light but it’s business. I don’t know. That’s a horrible way of describing you, but it’s what comes to me right now. Yeah, I just think it’s playful, that’s what I should say, playful. But yeah, I got it and I was like, own it. It’s just so wonderful. So I’m glad you’re highlighting it and I think, I mean, there’s probably 1,000,001 business owners who in this very moment are sitting on something. Two to three years I sat on the idea of hosting a retreat. And I used every excuse in the book. And I finally did it and it was… The only way of describing it, and you tell me if this word resonates, but it’s just shining. It’s just this shining moment to take the stage, to put it out there for what you love, what you value, what you see, be a value to be seen, to breathe life into it. It’s just beautiful.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah, for sure. And I feel like if you have an idea that’s already in your head, you already have execution steps, just do it. Because one, you’re going to be mad if somebody does it before you. Again, we already said they’re not going to do it like you or better than you or anything. But it was your idea and you sat on it. I had this course done over a year ago and sat on it. And now it’s like, oh shoot, QuickBooks is making changes. I’m sharing my screen showing QuickBooks. Now that looks different. I’m like, I wasted so much time. Now I got to go re-record some things. And it’s just wasteful. It’s wasteful to sit on-

Katherine Morales: It’s part of the R&D, don’t worry. Yeah. You got to chalk it up to R&D.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah, your potential, your ideas for a reason and they’re brewing in your gut. And I know your retreat was a success and I know that was brewing in you for so long. It’s just like, do it. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be real.

Katherine Morales: It was. Yeah. I’m so glad you were by my side through all that. Yeah, I love this. I want to be cognizant of time, but I guess, where can people find you? And where can they learn more about CFO-ish and if they want to connect with you?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: So the best place to find me will be Instagram, LinkedIn. Both handles are PamTheCPA. Yeah. So from there-

Katherine Morales: Easy to find you.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah, very. Pam the CPA, very easy. Once you go on Instagram, there’s a link in my bio that has tons of stuff you can learn about CFO-ish. You can go to the website. You can book free consultation calls, all of the fun stuff.

Katherine Morales: And of course, I want to highlight your website, Viking CPA Group. I’m sure they can find information there as well, right?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Absolutely, yes. Get information there.

Katherine Morales: I don’t want to skip over this so forgive me, but I think while there’s so much great advice offered in here, I really just want to ask directly to the people who are sitting on the idea or questioning their worth, I think that’s probably something you really deal with a lot. We’re looking at a “recession,” right? I put it in quotes because will it happen? Won’t it happen? I don’t know, but everybody’s buckling up, right?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah.

Katherine Morales: So what do you say to those people that are questioning their worth, their pricing, their ability to sustain through a recession, to know that they’re enough and they can do it? What advice would you give to them?

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Yeah, one, people spend money every day, recession or not. Seriously, recession or not, people spend money every day. What are you doing to make people want to spend money with you? What value are you giving? What service are you providing? And are you being you? People like what you have to sell for you specifically. So just leading with that value proposition and your unique selling coin, or you know all the marketing terms, I don’t know those.

Katherine Morales: You’re preaching to the choir here. I feel you. I’m like, yes, yes, yes.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: That and don’t cut your costs just because. If the market’s showing that you should, if no one’s buying at all, that’s a conversation to be had. But don’t just go in, oh, it’s a recession, let me go 50% off. You’re cutting yourself short. If you go in truly with what you have to offer and valuing yourself, your service. And not only that, but what will the end user receive? What’s the value perceived to them? You have to price according to that too. Yeah, it could take you three hours to do something, but if you’re saving somebody two months, price towards that. And not just based on the time it takes you, because it can take me 30 minutes to do a tax return, but it’s the value, it’s-

Katherine Morales: The years of experience to do it in 30 minutes.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: It’s the years of trying to get that CPA license.

Katherine Morales: Exactly.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: So it’s a lot of things that go into that, but just wanting people to stay encouraged and understand that people spend money every day. Even during COVID and the pandemic when things were shut down. And I say that-

Katherine Morales: I thought you were going to say when things were shit. It kind of came together.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: But that was the busiest point of my business so far, was that-

Katherine Morales: Wow.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: So while a lot of people are like, “I’m nervous, I’m scared,” I’m like, “I’m tired and I’m exhausted,” but in disguise. So you don’t know what your blessing in disguise would be. If it is the recession, people may need your services to stay in business, or people may need your products. You just never know.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. I love it. I love it. I just want to reiterate two words that you said here, the reminder, make sure you remind yourself, make sure you have the people around you to remind you. And I love that you said reinforcement. And I think that goes hand in hand, but I think that it’s important for business owners to not just have the family and friends, but the clients that are your brand ambassadors and they will remind you. And I think, I had this slide that I did, presented it a number of times in my business. And I had this pool and it was the deep end of a pool, and it said, “You dive into business and by the time you’re swimming around, you realize these essential skills you have to have.”

And it had three bullets. And one was marketing, two was business know-how, and three was accounting. So make sure that in that circle around you, the supporters, the people to remind you, you have a Pam and you have a marketing specialist and you have a business know-how Mastermind group, something like that. Because those I think are the essential pieces to ride the waves through inflation, recession.

So yeah, thank you for highlighting that. I think there’s certainly been things that you’ve helped to remind me of and reinforce for me in my business. So I’m so thrilled to share you and your authentic self with everyone here today. And yeah, I just appreciate so much when entrepreneurs are willing to share the growing pieces. The I didn’t pass the test, but I’m still stinking awesome. So that takes vulnerability, that takes sharing the truth that’s the heart of your business. So thank you for sharing it courageously, and I know a lot of people related to it for sure, even me in these conversations.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

Katherine Morales: Okay, so I hope that you can join the next conversations on our next Authentic Conversation with an entrepreneur is December 15th before the holidays. And it’ll be the same time, 1:30 pm ET. We’re talking to Jennifer Phelps and the topic is “Honoring Your Needs.” So we’re actually going to dive into mental health and business, which isn’t a topic that’s often talked about, but certainly is very present for many business owners and individuals. So we’re going to round out the year with that hot topic. So I hope y’all will join. And Jennifer is just amazing, she’s such a gem. So I hope y’all will join. I wouldn’t have anyone else on the show if they weren’t that way. So thanks so much, Pam, and thanks everyone for joining.

Pam (Balentine) Bell: Thank you. Bye.