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Debbie Peterson on Succession Planning, Innovation, and Mission Focus

For over two decades, Debbie has kept her team focused on a singular mission. Learn how she achieves that focus as well as what she would teach in business school. Don’t miss this masterclass of an episode.



On today’s episode, Julie talks with Debbie Peterson, President of Money Counts. Debbie reveals she has been working a succession plan for 20 years. Learn how important it is to consider this early on in your business. For over two decades, Debbie has kept her team focused on a singular mission. Learn how she achieves that focus as well as what she would teach in business school. Don’t miss this masterclass of an episode.


[00:00:00] Julie Bee – Host: On today’s episode, I talk with Debbie Peterson about succession planning, innovation, and how for over two decades, she has kept her team focused on a singular mission. I’m Julie B, and they don’t teach this in business school. 

[00:00:16] Midroll Spot: Every week Julie sends out big ideas and easy actions that help elevate your business.

She also. Some awesomeness happening in the business community. Make sure to subscribe to the Be Awesome 

[00:00:35] Julie Bee – Host: Hey there, I’m Julie B and you are listening to, they Don’t Teach This End Business School a podcast where we discuss. business ownership lessons that are learned through experience not in a classroom.

Today’s episode is really special to me because I get to interview Debbie Peterson, the owner and founder of Money Counts, and I’ve known Debbie for quite a while and I know we are going to have a fun conversation where we [00:01:00] probably all are gonna learn a little bit about running a business. Debbie, welcome to the show.

I’m really glad to have you here with me today. 

[00:01:06] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Well, I appreciate the opportunity, Julie, and yes, we have known each other quite a long time. . 

[00:01:12] Julie Bee – Host: Yes, since, since I’ve been in business at least. So. Well, Debbie, why don’t you just give us a brief overview of your business, money Councils, and also what your role is in the business.

[00:01:22] Debbie Peterson – Guest: I started the company because I had been in financial services since the mid seventies. I learned a lot about things you could do and things. Should do and things maybe that I didn’t like how other people were doing them. As I was in my career, I was in banking and in the trust industry there kept being mergers of our bank.

every time we had a merger, we’d get a new set of management and they would start tinkering with whatever we had been doing and saying, well, now we’re going to do this. It was very expensive. Mm-hmm. . And it was not client based at all. It [00:02:00] was manager based. Mm-hmm. , you know, who’s the high man on the totem pole?

And they, yes, they were men and and what, what conference had they been to and what buzzwords had they heard? And then, Come back and try and make a disaster outta your business plan that you’d been working on. You know? So. So all 

[00:02:17] Julie Bee – Host: that work you did just went out the window every single time 

[00:02:19] Debbie Peterson – Guest: this happened?

Yeah. And so early when I was in smaller banks, I was fortunate that I had some really good bosses and that particular boss would, I would report to them, they would report to the president of the bank, and I had a lot of leeway and say so in the direction we were in. But as we got bigger, I got farther and farther away from.

being able to talk to the people who actually made the decisions. Mm-hmm. and I had a lot of middle managers in between me and the next person up who were not very good at explaining why it was not a good idea to change from this direction to that direction without a little more thought. And so the opportunity came [00:03:00] about in, in the late nineties.

I was going through a divorce and two of my sons moved to Charlotte. and I had never wanted to live up in the snowball, which was where I was living. So I thought, well, you know, I’ll just go down there. Financial services are booming and I’ll find something to do. And that kind of prompted me to start money counts because I was not any longer responsible for other people in my family.

and I thought, well, if I don’t make it, I’ll just go live with my sister, . This was a great 

[00:03:32] Julie Bee – Host: business plan. , you know, we, you, you, everybody needs a backup plan. And you, you know, it, it, it’s okay. But, you know, one thing that I’ve always found very interesting about you, I, I remember, I don’t remember the first time I met you, but I do remember thinking when I got your business card and looked up your business and realized what you, what you do for work, I.

This is a really great business name because you know, you’re not trying your business name. Money counts is just [00:04:00] perfect and it’s not what you would imagine of a typical, I guess, like financial advisory. And I know you, you, you consider yourself a little bit different than that, but I know that’s a piece of what you do.

So tell, tell us about Money Counts Today and, and, and what your role is in the. 

[00:04:14] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Okay, well I am the owner and we have myself and one other advisor who is, was a client of mine first, Nicole Maloney. And whenever I’m ready, which will be quite a while from now, to turn the business over to someone. She is going to be the primary owner and I also have four other people working with me who do various types of administrative work and project work and.

They’re all in their forties or thirties. So we have, you know, longevity built into the business. And the mission is really to help people understand how they can make better decisions about all types of financial situations. [00:05:00] Many financial advisors only look at investments, but we are very holistic. We look at everything and we do insist on kind of.

Major data collection from mm-hmm. , whoever’s going to work with us. Mm-hmm. , because we feel like if we don’t know all of those things, how would we know what you need your money to do for you? So our job is to help you figure out what you need it to do, figure out where your resources are, and how to align them better with what your goals are.

So very similar to what I was doing when I was working in banking and trying to keep those guys on track. Now I use those same skills to try to. My friends and clients on. So 

[00:05:42] Julie Bee – Host: you just said something that I don’t, I don’t think I actually knew that your Nicole, which is, which is basically your succession plan, that she was a client that then became an an employee.

And how did that happen? 

[00:05:54] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Because that’s very interesting. Yeah, that was, that was very interesting actually, because I was introduced [00:06:00] to Nicole and her husband by another client of mine. Doug has a very similar background to me as far as being operationally oriented, very. Engineering kind of guy. Mm-hmm.

and Nicole has a financial background. A financial degree, and Anne was working at, she started out with First Union and then it became WA and then Wells, but she did a lot of training and banking and also worked in commercial lending. So she also has that kind of a background. , but Doug kept telling me he kept changing jobs and he kept telling me that he was looking for a company that was on the small side where he could make a really big difference.

We did really have a lot in common. And so I said, he asked me, he said, how long do you think it’ll be before you’ll be big enough that I could come work for you, ? And I said, well, gee, I don’t know. It’s probably gonna be a while cuz I had just gotten started and I was new to the community and so I had. A lot [00:07:00] to do to get influence to influence people that I was a good person to work with.

Mm-hmm. , we came up with this plan where Doug would work for me one day a week. for free, but he would build equity in the company so that eventually he could be an owner and that Nicole could come and work for me. Mm-hmm. and that, so this has been going on for over 20 years. Wow. This particular thought process, and he was working at Bank of America and they let him work for me one day a week and do his job in four days.

  1. and then they got to where they let him do his job in three days a week and he worked for me two days a week. , . And I still couldn’t really afford him. So yeah, when he finally was making so much money that I said, you know, you really need to go spend your time at the place that could pay you more money.

Mm-hmm. . But he had helped me build the infrastructure that we have, which was always with the design that we could help people anywhere. Mm-hmm. . And we could do it [00:08:00] through automation and computers and technology. and that was very helpful because we do business in over 20 different states and you know, people move from one place to another and they have friends in different places.

And then we have family in different places, so we’re able to work anywhere with anybody who’s a US citizen. Mm-hmm. , it’s kind of a restriction in. our competence level that you have to, you know, we have to understand that how taxes impact people. Mm-hmm. . So they need to be US citizens so we know what the tax rules are that we’re working with.

Yeah. . 

[00:08:34] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah. . So then, so then Doug goes, he works for you, helps you get all this stuff set up, and then he goes back to wherever he goes and then Nicole comes in. Yes. And that becomes then the, the succession plan. Right. That’s how that all that happened. Mm-hmm. and I, I think what’s interesting is, You know, you, you mentioned that you’ve had, this has been in the works for 20 years and I think I know especially, I mean, when I started my business.

[00:09:00] I wasn’t even thinking about like, how am I going to get out of my business? But that’s something that as you go, I think you learn that you have to, having that succession plan is really important. You were not in business that long when this all came about, right? No, it was 

[00:09:14] Debbie Peterson – Guest: very early in the business.

Like what? , 

[00:09:17] Julie Bee – Host: why? Like why did that? Because you, because you knew, you were like, I’m, I know I’m gonna 

[00:09:22] Debbie Peterson – Guest: wanna hire someday because it came from a bigger organization. that I know if somebody key in the organization leaves, there’s a lot of scrambling going on. Mm-hmm. . Well, when you are the organization and you want people to come to you mm-hmm.

you have to be able to tell them if something happens to you, what happens to them. Mm-hmm. . So that was always on my mind. I am very strategic in the way I think I go back to my technology background. If you were gonna hire a consulting firm to come and help you do a big project, , even if there was a small firm mm-hmm.

that was able to. [00:10:00] Do the bid and come in with a good quote. You’re, you know, you’re on the line if they don’t perform mm-hmm. , or if something happens to one of those key people, you need more people behind them that can step in and continue whatever you started. Mm-hmm. . So that was my mindset. Okay, who’s gonna come see me if it’s just me and something happens to me and there’s nobody.

There’s no backup plan. Yeah. 

[00:10:24] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah. , right? Well, there you go. That’s why you have a succession plan. That’s a, yeah. You don’t wanna think of it that way. Just think of it as a backup plan for your clients if something happens to you. I mean, 


[00:10:33] Debbie Peterson – Guest: really, well, really, truly, you know, we can’t control everything that happens to us, so I wanted to make sure that they had resources available to help them with whatever the situation was.


[00:10:43] Midroll Spot: has spoken to countless organizations for 13 years on topics including leadership, management, employee engagement, and morale, workplace culture, small business ownership, and entrepreneurship. If you’d like an engaging, relatable, and inspiring speaker for your [00:11:00] next event, book Julie to speak to your group.


[00:11:06] Julie Bee – Host: Hey, this is Julie B and you’re listening to, they Don’t Teach This in Business School. I’m here today with Debbie Peterson of Money Counts, and we were just talking about succession planning. But Debbie, I wanna ask you, what is your favorite part about being a business owner?

[00:11:22] Debbie Peterson – Guest: I’m the boss. , nobody boss. I can’t do it that way if I wanna do it that way. And that’s important to me because I wanted to set our business up so we could help anybody that was interested in learning more about your financial choices. Yeah. And if you work for a big company, they won’t let you spend your time that way.

Mm-hmm. . And so it’s my company. I can spend my time the way I want and I can direct. , the people who work with me, that if they wanna help somebody, that’s not gonna be a good long-term investment for us. It’s okay with [00:12:00] me because that person needs help and if we can help them, it’s not a big deal for us to spend a little time helping them go in the right direction.

So yeah, absolutely, we’d like 

[00:12:10] Julie Bee – Host: to do that. . So the flip side of being the boss is, you know, you’re, you’re the boss. Like, that’s the , right? Yeah. Like it’s, it’s, it’s kind of a double edged sword. So do you ever have that experience of it being lonely at the top? And if you have, how have you kind of combated that over the years?

[00:12:28] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Well, I have had times where like this year is a good example where the markets are just terrible. I care about all of my customers and my employees and everybody else who’s ever gotten advice from me that I can help them through times when they’re not good. But it’s. much harder when the times are not good for everybody at the same time than it is when it’s just a few individuals who are having a bad time.

At the moment, that’s when it gets a little hard because I don’t, I don’t [00:13:00] want the people who work for me to ever feel that our business is gonna go away. I don’t want my customers to feel our business is going to go away. Mm-hmm. , I, you know, I wanna be a resource for as long as I’m able and, Sometimes you worry about that.

I mean, there’s certainly situations that we’ve been going through where. You can’t predict. You can try and have your best strategies out there, but there could be, you know, if the market, if we went to war over the Ukraine, for instance mm-hmm. , you know, that’s, that’s very dramatic and we’d have to regroup.

I’ve had a lot of experience in regrouping over the years, so I’m not as afraid of it as a lot of people would be. Mm-hmm. . But a good thing about my personality is I also don. Worry in Ava in advance about things I can’t control. Yeah, I try to be aware of them, but I’m not gonna get panic stricken and go sit in the corner somewhere because I’m afraid to move forward.

You know, I take in all the [00:14:00] available information that I can find, and then I’m very good at being decisive about what I think my course of action will be, and I don’t spend a lot of time second guessing. or beating people up. If we made a bad decision, then as soon as we recognize it, we do our best to change it into a better one.


[00:14:18] Julie Bee – Host: the one thing that’s standing out for me as you’re talking here, Debbie, is you’re saying, you say we a lot and I know that you really, you have a really strong team that’s been with you for a long time. Mm-hmm. , which is an impressive, and just with what we’ve been through in the past, you know, 14 years that I’ve been in business, I, I, it is just been kind of all over the place.

Talk a little bit about how important your, your team is to you and the 

[00:14:45] Debbie Peterson – Guest: business. It’s pretty hard to quantify that, but we do have an excellent team. We think of each other like family. We don’t have arguments, we don’t bicker, none of that. We’re all, we’re all focused on. our clients. If [00:15:00] someone’s on my team, that has to be their, their thought process, yeah.

Is what do our clients need. If you get interrupted during the day because somebody needs something unexpectedly, it’s not okay to just say, I’m not doing that right now. , you have to take the time to listen and see if that takes higher priority than what you were working at. But everybody who works for me, Has the same mindset mm-hmm.

Of that. And I’m very fortunate that that’s the case. But they wouldn’t get to stay on the team if that wasn’t the way they thought. 

[00:15:32] Julie Bee – Host: No. Cuz that’s your culture. That’s always, you know, it’s client first. That’s, you’re very, that’s the, it’s 

[00:15:37] Debbie Peterson – Guest: very, and we love our clients. I mean, we really do. They just, you know, they become part of our family and.

that makes us happy. 

[00:15:44] Julie Bee – Host: So let’s just look at the past couple of years. What are you most proud of your team for? You know, is there anything that you can think of that’s really stood out to you? It’s been a rollercoaster, you know, the past few years, and especially for someone who is, you know, a financial [00:16:00] advisor.

Is there anything that you can think of in particular or just in general even that you’re really 

[00:16:04] Debbie Peterson – Guest: proud of? Well, yes I can for sure. Yeah. I’m an innovator. Anytime I see something that we keep having a problem with, I wanna fix it, and I’m pretty good at that. But a lot of people are resistant to change.

and they couldn’t work for me if they wouldn’t . They couldn’t listen to why I think we should change things. Yeah. If you could see my office right now, we’ve just gotten rid of all of our filing cabinets, for instance, because we’re not gonna keep paper files anymore as soon as we’re, we’re innovating all the time and everybody gets to put in their thought process about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea and why.

but we really do. Great success on everybody buying into whatever we decide to do. Yeah, and as long as we can show how it benefits the clients, or it benefits us [00:17:00] efficiently so that we have one less task that nobody wanted to do and we got rid of it because it wasn’t really very valuable, then you know it’s success for everybody 

[00:17:10] Midroll Spot: each and every week, Julie sends out big ideas and easy actions that help elevate your.

She’ll also share some awesomeness happening in the business community. Don’t miss out. Subscribe to the Be Awesome 

[00:17:27] Julie Bee – Host: You are listening to They Don’t Teach This End Business School, and I’m the host Julie b. I’m here with Debbie Peterson of Money Counts, and we are just having a great conversation.

The one thing that always comes. with Debbie is the, the we and the team. And how, also, what I’m always impressed with you, with you, Debbie, is how you do keep your, you know, you just keep your team so focused on the mission. I wanna ask you, cause I’m curious about this. How do you define 

[00:17:54] Debbie Peterson – Guest: success? I’ve defined success by how much we can help [00:18:00] people improve their outlook on their situation.

So I can’t necessarily improve their. . But I think by working with us, that we can help them feel more successful about the decisions that they make. Mm-hmm. . And see the value in not trying to tackle too many things at once. It’s something I used project management skills. With people versus traditional planning skills.

Traditional planning is about look at everything all together and try to fix everything at once, and that never works. Mm-hmm. , I’m sorry, it just doesn’t because too many things change. Yeah. And then you didn’t expect the way one thing changed and it throws off everything else. So it’s much better to tackle things as.

I always tell people, where do you wanna be? Three years or so from now. Mm-hmm. personally. Mm-hmm. . What would make you feel happy and successful? Mm-hmm. Or get rid of something that’s been dragging you down. [00:19:00] And then what do we have to do now to make it more likely that you can get there? Yeah. And that, so it’s, it’s like coaching.

Yeah. But it’s very interactive. , we enjoy it. You know, I just, yeah. If I can take some pressures off of people mm-hmm. and have them get more confidence. Every time you do move a step further along, you build a little bit more confidence in your decision making and how to figure out what’s a priority and what’s just a nuisance.

Mm-hmm. , and I think we teach people that, that, and that helps ’em in the long run do better on their own. And they may not need us quite as much because they’ve learned. 

[00:19:38] Julie Bee – Host: And you are probably the only financial advisor I’ve ever heard say that , 

[00:19:44] Debbie Peterson – Guest: that may well be . Yeah. Our goal is for you not to need us anymore,

But that’s really, I mean, we don’t need, we don’t wanna have to hand hold forever because we wanna be able to help more people or teach more people how to [00:20:00] prioritize and what to worry about and what not to worry about. Comes in there, you know, to know the little things from the big. . 

[00:20:07] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah. You have seen, you’ve probably seen.

you know, I won’t say all of it, but you’ve seen a lot from different clients and you, you probably bring a perspective to, you know, someone who comes in that may be feeling, you know, bad about where they are or feeling really stressed out about where they are. And you can probably say, okay, well here’s the reality.

Here’s, you know, this is not an abnormal situation, or this is a fairly normal situation and here’s how we’ve gotten 10 other clients. Here’s a path we can take that we’ve, you know, taken before. And it’s always interesting to me like how you approach working with clients because the of that holistic approach from a is it’s not just about what’s in your portfolio or let’s get a portfolio set up 

[00:20:45] Debbie Peterson – Guest: for you’s.

The fully thing. That’s actually, that’s the last thing we do. Wow. Yeah. That is always the last thing we do because I don’t know what people need their money to do for them until I know what’s happening around them already. Mm. , it may not be anything [00:21:00] to do with investing that needs to be fixed. Mm-hmm. , it may be their home situation or mm-hmm.

their job situation. Mm-hmm. their. personal situation with their family. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So, you know, we need to, I’m good at helping people prioritize, I think. I think you 

[00:21:15] Julie Bee – Host: are too. Well, Debbie, as we’re coming to the end of the conversation, I have one more question to ask you. If you were going to teach a class about being a business owner to, you know, future business owners and entrepreneurs, what is the one main thing that you would want them to really take away from that class?

[00:21:33] Debbie Peterson – Guest: That you can’t plan for everything. . So you don’t want to get so strong in what you think your vision is, that you keep going in that direction when things are trying to tell you that, you know, maybe you need to make some changes. So a lot of us get, you know, right, this big business plan and this is gonna happen and that’s gonna happen, and then all of a sudden one of those things doesn’t happen.[00:22:00] 

But you don’t want to admit to. that that’s going to throw your plan off. Mm-hmm. . So you keep trying to execute your plan even though it’s no longer a good plan. So I think realizing that no matter how much time you spend on it, until you jump in and start doing it, you’re not gonna know what needs to change and what needs to be kept, and you learn from your experience and try not to be too rigid in what you expect of yourself and what you expect of that original plan because it will.

[00:22:33] Julie Bee – Host: Yes, it will. Very well said, . 

[00:22:37] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Well, you’re nodding like you’ve had some experience in this. Well, you 

[00:22:40] Julie Bee – Host: know, I’ve had some experience all the way around. All of that. Yes. I mean, look at what I’m doing now. I, I would not have, you know, sometimes you make plans and then sometimes you gotta go where. I say often where the market takes you, but really it’s where, you know, for me also, it’s like where, you know, your passion takes you or where your interests take you as well.

I, yeah, [00:23:00] so it’s, it’s amazing how, when, when I consult for some of the local community colleges around here, uh, you know, I, I work with a lot of one, one or two year end businesses companies, and they’ll show me their 10 year plan, and I’m like, mm-hmm. Like, that’s just, I hope you get there or, or you, you know, but let’s talk about what you’re doing over the next three months because mm-hmm.

10 years out is a, I mean, it’s, it’s, especially now, I think it’s even harder to plan. I mean, I, I can’t even imagine making a 10 year plan for what I was gonna be in doing in business 10, 10 

[00:23:35] Debbie Peterson – Guest: years from. So if you know much about traditional financial planning, personal planning mm-hmm. , they try to get you to guess how old you’re going to be when you die, and everything leading up to that.

Yeah. And then they build a very rigid plan that goes just with those parameters and as soon as one thing changes, the plan isn’t a good plan anymore. Yeah. But it doesn’t have any adaptability in it. [00:24:00] Mm-hmm. So we’re trying to focus on what we can control. Now and over the next few years, but we know it’s going to change, so I expect it to change and I, people can spend months and months and months on a business plan.

Mm-hmm. I worked at, when I worked at one of the banks I worked at half of each year was spent doing the next plan that was supposed to be for five years. . Yeah. Well, then they’d throw it out anyway, so it didn’t . What was the point? Why did we spend all this time and energy and then you’re gonna tell me I can’t do it.

Yeah. Yeah. That was very frustrating to me. So I believe that you take the information that you have at hand, and then you set some goals that are near term to intermediate term. Mm-hmm. . And you see what you can keep in your plan as you go forward and what things are optional that might have to get tossed out, and then you keep moving that.

Well, there you go, . 

[00:24:58] Julie Bee – Host: Well, Debbie Lucid, I have [00:25:00] so enjoyed this conversation. I knew I would feel like it was a masterclass, which is exactly what it felt like to me, and I know the other business owners listening as well. I just wanna thank you again for being on the show today. 

[00:25:10] Debbie Peterson – Guest: Well, thank you for the opportunity.

I always enjoyed talking with you, Julie , 

[00:25:14] Julie Bee – Host: and that is a wrap on today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on future conversations. I’m Julie B and they don’t teach this in business school.