Shawna Fitzgerald has always has a passion for numbers, but knows that not everyone shares her enthusiasm. Through her company, Creating Answers, Fitzgerald’s goal is to make numbers and finances fun and to help people and organizations achieve financial clarity.
Numbers are fun
A client who goes to an office for financial help might expect to see people dressed in somber suits explaining printouts of complex financial data. Not the case at Creating Answers. Casual dress along with colorful phrases and numbers scribbled on a glass-top desk or walls are the norm. Lively job titles, such as Goddess of Operations, Chief Financial Cruise Director and Fearless Leader/CEO (for Shawna) lighten the atmosphere. Clients who achieve a small success might get a “woo hoo” or applause the next time they come into the office. Fitzgerald said that the environment is intended to make financial discussions unintimidating and even fun.
Finding her niche
Fitzgerald began her business career as a warranty manager for Ford Motor Co., but quickly decided to leave the stability of the job to start her own residential and commercial cleaning business. She rapidly grew the company from a one-client shop to a “booming business” with many commercial and residential customers. However, after years, Fitzgerald said that she felt burned out.
“I wasn’t having fun anymore. You should enjoy what you’re doing,” she said.
Fitzgerald sold the business and went back to school to get a degree in finance. Shortly after, she was interviewed by Stacey Powell of Powell & Associates, which later became Creating Answers. Fitzgerald loved Powell’s unique model for creative financial coaching and was enthused about simplifying finances for others to help them avoid the burnout that she had experienced.
Powell also created the Finance Gym, and Fitzgerald became the lead strategic planner for it. The gym’s flagship product is a “financial boot camp” where small groups of people with similar financial circumstances are brought together to meet regularly, discuss specific challenges they are facing and hold each other accountable for making changes.
Growing her business
In March 2013, Powell sold Creating Answers to Fitzgerald because Powell wanted to focus her efforts on the Finance Gym. The two entrepreneurs work in tandem; individuals wanting to work in a group setting can go to the Finance Gym, while Creating Answers works one on one with clients.
Fitzgerald said that the transition since purchasing Creating Answers has been challenging. Her first goal was to increase staffing (there are now five employees) and help clients transition to working with new staff. She wants clients and staff to “come in with smiles.”
Creating Answers offers bookkeeping, payroll and financial analysis, but only in conjunction with financial coaching for individuals, couples and businesses. The company does not offer investment or tax-filing services and suggests that those needing those services find a certified public accountant or financial planner. What Creating Answers does is help clients understand their numbers and what they can do with them. The goal is to help “each client to feel relieved and to have a clear path about their finances,” said Fitzgerald. So many people “get stuck in the numbers, and we unstick them,” she added.
In addition to coaching, Creating Answers can serve as external chief financial officer for not-for-profit organizations and companies of all sizes that choose not to hire their own in-house CFO or that are not yet at the level where an in-house CFO is needed.
Those interested in financial services can come to the office for a 30-minute free meeting so that the client and staff can see if they are a good fit for each other.
Once a year, Creating Answers and Finance Gym host Financial Art during a Second Saturday art walk. Visitors are invited to draw their finances in crayon pie charts which are then hung like colorful prayer flags in the courtyard. “Drawing the numbers with crayons is a great way to understand them,” explained Fitzgerald. The event is free and suitable for the entire family.
One of the lessons that Fitzgerald learned during her career was to trust her gut.
“If I see an opportunity, even if it is a huge risk, I do it if my instinct says go,” said Fitzgerald. Her gut is now telling her that that the company can grow bigger and better and offer financial services to more people. Fitzgerald said that she already has remote clients that check in by Skype or phone, and she sees great potential for serving clients in all corners of the globe.
Creating Answers is located at 1812 J St., Suite 22. They can be reached by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, (916) 930-0777.
"Locally Owned” is a regular column highlighting local business owners, the backbone of our community and economy. Each column explores the personal stories of owners and the businesses they built.