All financial decisions involve a tradeoff between risk and return. In general, the higher the risk, the higher the return, but good financial planning involves maximizing the return while minimizing the risk. This good financial planning is accomplished by diversifying your investments. For most people, this means investing in a combination of stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash instruments. For a few people, like myself, this means starting and operating a variety of complementary, but unique, small businesses. Regardless of your approach, making investments into a diverse group of investment types will maximize your chance to increase your money.
As a part of my series about the The 5 Essentials of Smart Investing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donald Williams.
A visionary. A wealth builder. A money expert. Donald Williams is passionate about helping individuals, small businesses owners and entrepreneurs find and build the financial foundation they need to succeed. With a Bachelors of Arts degree from Southern University of New Orleans and a Masters of Arts honors degree from Clark Atlanta University, both in accounting, Mr. Williams’ career has been fueled by an industry he loves. In 2005, he launched Williams Accounting and Consulting in New Orleans. Just one year later, he successfully opened his second location in Atlanta. To date, he has grown his clientele to more than 1,000 individuals and businesses along the Southeast coast.
An experienced entrepreneur, Mr. Williams understands the struggles of small business owners. He has strategically structured Williams Accounting and Consulting to specifically and effectively serve this demographic, as well as the personal finance needs of individuals. As a business savvy CEO, Mr. Williams has created a firm that handles the demanding financial, accounting and tax filing preparation of his clients. Alleviating this stress allows Williams Accounting and Consulting clients to focus on growing their businesses and investing into their own personal lives.
In addition to Williams Accounting and Consulting, Mr. Williams also launched Suivant Consulting. Through this consulting firm, Mr. Williams helps individuals transition successfully into entrepreneurship.
Outside of the business, Mr. Williams is actively engaged in his community. He has developed on-the-job training for disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter the field of accounting. He also provides for families in need during the holiday season. Committed to uplifting his community, Mr. Williams opened a non-for-profit organization in 2006 called Ordinaire, with the mission to promote health, wellness and economic stability to disadvantaged individuals through education, training and empowerment.
Thank you for doing this with us! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
I grew up in a lower income community in New Orleans. I learned at a young age that I had to work hard and devote a lot of energy to each of my activities to receive recognition or get anything accomplished. That reality caused me to want to be an entrepreneur and start as many businesses as possible. Fortunately, I was able to do well in school. I graduated from Southern University at New Orleans and in 2005, I started my first business, Williams Accounting & Consulting. I started an Atlanta office and then soon opened a New Orleans office. While I was building a client base in both office locations, I earned a Master of Arts in Accounting from Clark Atlanta University. Since I was running two offices while going to graduate school, I was working very hard, but I loved it. I discovered that I loved helping clients with their taxes, accounting/financial matters, and helping them improve their businesses. Over time, I found myself increasingly focusing on providing consulting services since I had learned about so many different businesses and industries. I later started several other businesses that I’m continuing to build. I still try to bring the same energy to my businesses that I learned to bring to activities as a child.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
My business, Williams Accounting & Consulting, prepares a lot of tax returns for clients. As a tax preparer, the IRS will occasionally audit our client files to make sure that we are processing certain tax matters correctly. About five years ago, as part of one such audit, an IRS auditor came and spent a week auditing our client files. No one likes being audited by the IRS, not even tax preparers. Even though we have an excellent client record and documentation system in place that complies with all rules and regulations, I was still a little nervous about the uncertainty associated with any IRS audit. Over the course of that week, I interacted a lot with the IRS auditor and learned a fair amount about her background and interests. She was at all times professional and friendly and we were the same. She completed her audit and found our files to be in perfect shape. A short time later, I followed up with her and we went to lunch, did not discuss any IRS audits issues, and instead, got to know each other as friends, and we remain friends to this day. The lesson of this story is that even with potentially unpleasant business experiences, such as an IRS audit, a positive outcome can result if all parties act professional and friendly throughout the process.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I just published my first book, Eat What You Kill. It is available on Amazon now. This book is ideal for the first-time entrepreneur or the ore experienced one. In my book, I share practical tips, based on my learned lessons, that can be applied at any stage of business. I’m also learning a lot about the trucking business because I have had several clients who are truck drivers that want to leave their trucking company and start their own trucking business. In order to help them, my team has been researching and learning everything we can about the trucking business, such as licensing, rules and regulations, steps needed to start and operate a trucking business, and most importantly, how to make a trucking business profitable for its owners. Our goal is to help our current clients, and then some new clients, fulfill their dreams of owning their own trucking business and being their own boss.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?
I think that the primary cause of those unfortunate numbers is that financial literacy is not being taught in school. School exposes students to math and occasionally some basic economics, but unless a student is fortunate enough to attend college and take some finance or accounting courses, they will never have any course on financial literacy. Since the student’s parents also probably did not have any course on financial literacy, the student does not ever have an opportunity to learn about finance. In my case, I did not learn about interest, the impact of compound interest, or the benefit of having an investment grow over time, until I was in the second or third year of college.
If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
I would ensure financial literacy is being taught in K-12 schools. I also believe there should be greater public communication about the disadvantages of consumers using credit cards or any other high-interest payment methods for debt financing. Credit cards are great for their convenience, but should only be used if/when the consumer can pay their credit card bill in full each month. Lastly, I think children should be encouraged to invest in the stock market — even if they just own one share of stock in a company. By having stock in a company, they will learn about stock investing, generally, and the company for which they own stock, specifically, thereby resulting in a great education while also having an investment that probably increases in value.
• You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Avoid borrowing with credit cards and if you do, make sure you can pay the balance each month. I’ve had clients who filed bankruptcy due to having accumulated too much interest on their credit cards.
- Understand that student loans are not free money. What most college students do not realize is that those loans have to be paid back, with interest, and they will delay you being able to buy the house that you want, take the vacations you want, or most importantly, choose the job that you want since you have to earn enough income to pay off the student loans.
- Investing at a young age is very important. There are tremendous savings potential using compound interest or the reinvestment of dividends over a long period of time. I’ve had some clients who started investing money in high school, avoided taking on credit card debts and student loans, and now are millionaires in their mid-30s.
- Some debt, such as mortgage debt and business debt, is good debt. Mortgage debt and business debt results in interest tax deductions, but more importantly, those debts allow you to leverage your current money to generate a lot more money in the future.
- All financial decisions involve a tradeoff between risk and return. In general, the higher the risk, the higher the return, but good financial planning involves maximizing the return while minimizing the risk. This good financial planning is accomplished by diversifying your investments. For most people, this means investing in a combination of stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash instruments. For a few people, like myself, this means starting and operating a variety of complementary, but unique, small businesses. Regardless of your approach, making investments into a diverse group of investment types will maximize your chance to increase your money.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother has been instrumental in my life. We grew up as being a large, lower income family, but my mother always encouraged me to be myself and to pursue my dreams. While others discouraged me from seeking an education and wanting to start businesses, my mother has always been supportive of me. She always told me that I could do anything that I send my mind to do, and that was what excited her, and scared her. She was completely right about me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “when one door closes, another door opens.” My life has been filled with doors closing on me, but using my energy and conviction that I would have success with my education, my businesses, and my personal life, many doors opened for me after other doors closed on me. There were times growing up when I wondered if I would ever get to enjoy some of the wonderful experiences, I would see on television that I never experienced as a child. My childhood and early adult life presented me with some closed doors. However, I learned that by bringing my energy to each activity, by taking a positive outlook and approach to each activity, and by believing that each activity presented an opportunity instead of a burden, I have found that many doors are open to me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire a movement of decency and respect for all. Regardless of our background, we all want to be treated with decency and respect. This can be as simple as saying “thank you” when someone helps you, or more-in depth such as mentoring someone who will not ever be able to help you personally, but who will some day mentor someone else. I sense that there are many people today who live in a fearful state of always feeling like they need to protect their own interests and do not want to put forth the effort to show decency and respect to other people. While I understand that fear, that fear cannot control our reactions. We must overcome all fears and treat all others with decency and respect.