As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Manning, CEO/Founder of Payroll Vault.
Sean Manning, CPA, CFE is partner and CEO of Payroll Vault brands, whose divisions include Payroll Vault Franchising LLC, the payroll service franchise business system, and Payroll Vault — Littleton, the corporate location an independent payroll service company. He is the former owner of Insperience Business Services, an accounting, tax, and business advisory firm located in Littleton, Colorado that he sold in August of 2018, subsequent to 3 firm acquisitions from 1998 through 2004.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What were your early inspirations that set you on your particular journey?
Manning: My suspicion is most successful people get there with the help of mentors. I certainly had a lot of mentors — including my father, a CPA and business owner — all were willing to help guide me and be available to answer questions. That then became my inspiration to find a way to help and mentor others. Not only does that mean building a business that eases certain stresses on other business owners, but also serving as a resource and guiding others on their own paths to their individual or business success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lessons or takeaways did you learn from that?
Manning: I’ll go way back to the beginning — when I was in school. I was taking an accounting class in college and after the first exam, the teacher posted scores. But my score just said, “See Teacher.” I went to speak with the teacher, and she said, “You need to drop accounting.” And I listened! Because of that, I went down the path of restaurant management, where I ultimately learned more about businesses and also eventually found new opportunity and knowledge of accounting again. There are a lot of mistakes in business, and if you’re open to the opportunity to experiment, you’ll learn so much from any trips and falls along the way. As tough as that college story was in the moment, it’s made funnier by the irony of becoming a CPA, owning an accounting firm and having success in the accounting industry.
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?
Manning: That’s easy. It’s my dad, who was the one saying, “You can do this. Come and work for me.” I did, and eight years later, I bought his accounting firm when he then retired. That was a huge springboard for me to find my own success with the accounting firm and eventually the start of Payroll Vault, another successful business.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you first started your journey?
Manning: When I started my career, the technical side of things was pretty easy. Once I understood the operating systems, I knew there would be other responsibilities and nervous about the challenges. The most difficult turned out to be communicating and speaking to people about what our business did. I was very reserved with business development and my perception was it was hard. It was tough and it took several years to become more outgoing, but now I’m very comfortable, even in a speaking role, both to explaining what we do and help others in the business community.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Manning: Everyone has a system for pushing through. For me, it’s channeling nervous energy into adrenaline and inspiration. Over time, I’ve learned to transform those situations into motivation. If I were speaking to my younger self, I’d tell myself to have fun. It’s about the journey, and those difficult situations always seemed to lead to some sort of personal growth. We have to remind ourselves that business can be difficult; and that it’s essential to finding personal accomplishment.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Manning: If I had to look back thirty years ago when this journey started, I thought I’d be retired at this point. But I’m now further from it than ever — I love what I’m doing. I’m excited and motivated, and I’m hungry to do more, help others. This past year has been difficult for a lot of business owners, and I’ve probably worked harder this past year than I have in several years. The constant challenges gave me incentive to push harder. I’m not done yet, and there’s more that I want to do.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Manning: I think the word “culture” can be overused, but it’s still and important concept. I like to also talk about “company essence,” behind the culture, it is the voluntary things we do that created a positive experience for others. At Payroll Vault, we build culture and company essence into our brand identity. It also includes our values, beliefs, a solid five-or six-page document that’s foundational to who we are and serves as our guiding principles. These are concepts and actions that show up every day in our services and business relationships we develop. There’s not one specific story, but the combination of our empathy along with the ability to help small businesses navigate so much turbulence in the past year was truly fulfilling.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
Manning: We talk about this quite a bit: “foundation/system/success.” Every business needs a good foundation along with a strong systems to be successful. The journey to success is different for all of us. Once you have your foundation and systems in place, enjoy your journey. You should be going to work excited every day. You should be mentally and physically satisfied at the end of the day. Find that career or business where you’re excited to wake up and get to work, give it your all. Having fun and being satisfied will help avoid burn out.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Manning: My business and personal goals include the concept of a “cause brand,” something that can start to make a difference in other people’s lives. For a long time, my focus was on my team and my clients and their success. Now we’re starting to focus on doing more for others, we have created a business ownership “scholarship” program for those who want to own businesses but don’t have the normal financial means. Giving back, for me, means helping others who are interested in entrepreneurship and helping them achieve those goals. Hopefully, they’ll will also do the same for others.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “Five things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Trust in Delegation — It’s powerful to see it in action; when you see people you’ve trusted exceed and surpass expectations it is very motivational for everyone. When people around me are performing, I can also perform and be responsible too, develop and foster organizational expectations and opportunities.
- Remember to Celebrate — Take time to reflect on your successes and victories. CPAs can often work what feels like 24/7 during a tax season. It is important to capitalize on reasons to celebrate or take a moment to unplug and reflect, appreciate that you’ve done.
- Learn to Collaborate — It’s hard to let go of the reins sometimes. I mentioned delegation earlier, but the further point is allowing for more voices and ideas to be heard. We see it every week in our “framework meetings.” You start to accomplish more than you ever imagine when people are effectively collaborating. Being a part of a collaborative team, it’s motivational.
- Remember to Say “Please,” “Thank You” and “Your Welcome” — Your business is not run by one person. Its success depends on the efforts of so many people, and that needs to be respected and recognized often.
- Vision is Important — It’s always important to build a plan that you can support through all of these thoughts under clear leadership and mutual respect. Vision fosters creativity that bring great satisfaction when goals are met.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Manning: I’m really not sure about this one.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Manning: We always try to share our insights with businesses across the country. The Payroll Vault blog is a great resource for payroll and HR updates. You can also see my thoughts on various business and payroll developments in several publications like Forbes, LinkedIn, Business.com, and others.