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Don’t call it your dream, Call it your plan

Don’t call it your dream, Call it your plan

Life through a lens

One of the toughest challenges for owners of SMEs is to be able to stand back, to look at their business through a wide-angle lens and identify what it is they really have.

Because quite often, the day-to-day distractions and diversions that inevitably surround the running of a successful business – particularly when there’s a global pandemic pulling the rug from under everyone’s feet – get in the way of sensible, objective evaluation and strategic decision-making. Crucially, that can mean that really important opportunities to grow and develop go at best un-exploited and at worst, un-noticed.

This is where the role of Chief Financial Officer becomes so vital. And where the specific advantages of joining forces with a part time (and often virtual) CFO are brought sharply into focus.

 

Allow yourself to dream…

What does your CFO do for you as the owner of an SME? Hopefully, they’ll make sure that everyone gets paid the right amount at the right time; sort out your internal reporting, compliance and tax planning, and probably run your relationship with your bank.

While that (along with a few other bits and pieces) is probably enough to keep a business ticking over, it’s not a reasonable platform on which to base a sound growth strategy.

Of course, things look even worse if you don’t have a CFO on your team. Whatever your business and whatever your own specific talent, it’s almost certain that you didn’t get into business to spend your life doing cashflow projections or dealing with taxes! No dreaming for you – you’re more likely to be waking up at 3 am in cold sweats.

 

A CFO Center CFO can help make your dreams come true

When you started your company, you almost certainly allowed yourself to dream – every successful business operator needs ambition. But as we’ve seen, all too often those aspirations become bogged down in the everyday grind of keeping a business afloat.

The CFO Center team provides CFO expertise of a very high caliber – the top 1% of talent in the marketplace. These are people who know their stuff – the operational finance stuff, which keeps the wheels in motion and the strategic finance stuff, which brings the dream to life.

In many cases they’re able to draw on their own business success to guide others.

A CFO Center CFO will help decode the dream and turn it into a plan and be the one to hold you to account to make it happen. He or she will bring forward the target by showing you how to come at it from a different angle. Great CFOs are catalysts and can help you break the pattern of linear growth and get you what you really want on an expedited timetable. And that’s essential if the dream is still to come true.

 

The CFO Center ‘Entrepreneur Journey’: our ‘secret sauce’

All CFO Center CFOs operate within an environment that provides comprehensive support and expertise. The CFO Center has a global network – a Collective Intelligence Engine – of more than 700 individuals, each of whom has achieved success as a CFO and often as an MD or CEO, themselves. What’s more, they are uniquely able to access and deploy the limitless potential locked up in your business model. And they talk to each other, share expertise, experiences, and contacts.

In brief, a CFO Center CFO will guide the entrepreneur on a three-stage journey to achieve clarity about what it is they really want from their business. To take them from where they are now, to where they want to be.

And to be clear: ‘where they want to be’ is an individual choice for the business owner. It might involve scaling up significantly; it could mean launching new products in new markets around the world; perhaps it means ratcheting up your multiple as you prepare for exit. Whatever form it takes, it’s invariably about making that dream a reality by refashioning the plan and making sure it actually happens.

Stage One on the journey covers the process of achieving operational excellence. In other words enabling an organisation to do what it does best, to the best extent possible.

Stage Two, strategic opportunity, involves preparing the springboard. This is where the strategy to achieve those dreams is forged. Perhaps it’s a question of entering new markets; evaluating risk, raising new funds. Whatever the strategy, it’s based on sound experience and, yes, that ‘secret sauce’ that blends the logic with a little magic and know how.

Stage Three, game-changing performance is, simply, what happens when stages one and two are complete.

The dream is achieved by developing a concise roadmap based on what the business owner wants to achieve. The role of the CFO Center CFO is to identify and unlock that potential – thus freeing the dream and making it a reality.

 

Fly like a bird

Of course, this is not to suggest that success comes easily. Business challenges are usually complicated and risky. That’s another reason why potential isn’t always realised; why many business owners end up working late nights on mundane tasks.

So, one of the first conversations a CFO Center CFO will have with a client is to understand what it is that motivates them to be in business, and what they want to achieve from it. What really matters to them. There are numbers, many numbers, in the life of a CFO, but it’s identifying and understanding the numbers that really matter in the client’s life that is crucial.

A CFO Center CFO aims to unlock that potential and give wings to the dream.

 

 

Thriving in the New World Guardian

Thriving in the New World Guardian

Thriving in the New World requires a CFO to expand their Guardian role for the organization.  The CFO must see themselves driving the organization’s efforts to harness increasing levels of complexity while embedding behaviours and systems to defend against existing and emerging threats to business continuity.

Organizations of all sizes have relied on their financial leaders to develop internal control systems and financial compliance with taxation and regulatory bodies.  The business owner and key stakeholders will better navigate the future by ensuring their financial leader is accountable for maximising the organization’s overall information integrity and for broadening the compliance framework.

Successfully achieving this broader mandate will require the CFO to elevate their collaboration and partnership with other functional leaders.  Success will also depend on how intensely the leadership team commits to sharpening their ability to convert information into insight.  There are two initiatives your CFO can pursue to create greater visibility of information related opportunities and potential compliance challenges.

Harnessing Digital Transformation

The recent pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation for every business.  Over the past year, it has become clear that companies who want to win must consistently adopt emerging technologies to exploit the opportunities offered by digitization. Businesses who select the right solutions will convert the promise of richer information into higher revenue and lower costs.

It is likely your business is headed towards larger technology investment. Business leaders must, of course, rely on their technology advisors and their market oriented leadership to drive digital transformation; however, the contribution of the CFO should not be overlooked.   Owners and CEOs should seek to pair their technology advisor with their financial advisor to ensure the technology selection process is sufficiently thorough and holistic.

Decision makers often desire greater amounts of information; however, there is no guarantee it leads to better decisions.  For most organizations, their finance teams have the most experience in digesting large amounts of information and structuring it to make recommendations.   Fostering collaboration between finance staff and your digital marketing leaders will promote more streamlined, more accurate, more actionable information.

Creating a Compliance Culture

The reality is that discussions regarding “compliance”  are low on the excitement list for most individuals, and almost certainly not the driving force for most CEO’s or owner operators.   For finance and operations teams, compliance may not be their primary passion; however, their functional success links directly to processes that ensure compliance requirements are visible and achieved.    The challenge for compliance in a post pandemic world has grown. Workers remotely accessing business systems and confidential data puts greater pressure on protecting customer information and maintaining adherence to internal practices.

It is no surprise that the first step to creating a compliance culture begins with the leadership team. For many business the choice to task the CFO to take on compliance culture responsibilities will reinforce to employees the organization’s commitment to a disciplined overall compliance framework.  Your CFO should bring a compliance mindset to the organization. Equally importantly, they should bring proven methods to establish compliance systems.

Once the initial building blocks of leadership commitment and senior level accountability are established, the CFO can work with their colleagues to put in place three additional elements that have proven effective in financial compliance.  These elements are Visibility, Review and Corrective Action.   These three elements have been essential for every finance leader to demonstrate a reliable compliance framework to tax authorities, regulatory bodies, and financial stakeholders.

Future Proof Your Business

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Thriving in the New World Operator 1

Thriving in the New World Operator

In this series of Thriving in the New World, The CFO Center explores what exactly it means to be an operator in the “new world” and essential elements that allow your business to thrive.

Most owner-operated businesses would agree that increased cash and more access to capital would help them exceed their business objectives.   Recent societal and economic realities have strained or even exhausted cash resources for many companies.   Even those companies enjoying unprecedented growth are scrambling to fund unexpected expansion.   The essential building block for liquidity has always been Operational Excellence, defined as consistent and reliable execution of each business’ unique processes to acquire and satisfy customers.

High performing operations processes have always been the foundation for generating cash from within the business.  Equally important for those business owners seeking to thrive in a post Covid world is the critical need to demonstrate operational excellence to third party financing sources.  Seeking to expand your credit line with your bank or pursuing additional investors will require the business owner to present a clear and compelling story for how the company will produce profits, cash and sufficient return on capital.

The traditional role for a CFO in Operational Excellence is to provide accurate financial information and act as leading voice in cost reduction.   Creating a truly reliable foundation for generating cash and profits; often requires financial leaders to contribute more than they have ever before.  The experience, attributes and mindset of many CFO’s positions them to act as a catalyst for delivering cash and profit maximization across the full range of business processes.

Fix the Finance Foundation

The processes and practices of the finance function must be viewed as rock solid by the owner and the rest of the organization to create a path for participation or preferably leadership of broader operational improvement initiatives.

There are three key functional outcomes that must be in place to give the finance team the credibility to extend its involvement to other operational processes.  Without these deliverables in place, the organization’s ability to undertake deeper process review will be severely impaired.

The first base level capability is timely, accurate and useful financial reporting.  If the leaders of the company are not receiving this level of financial reporting, then it is unlikely that the finance leader has earned the right to apply their team’s expertise to general operating processes.

The second must have competency from the finance team is an understanding of the cost drivers for the business. The understanding of costs does not have to be perfect; however, there must be a methodology in place to capture and analyze the complete range of items that form the cost of  products or services

The third requirement for finance team effectiveness is to have a solid grasp of the company strategies that will drive future growth and success.   If your finance staff are seen just as number crunchers it will be difficult for them to contribute to operational initiatives.   The first installment of our CFO contribution series suggests a practical approach to engage your finance leader in developing future proofing strategies.

Own Cash Flow

The responsibility of generating positive cash flow clearly belongs to the CEO and the entire organization; however, expanding the mindset of your financial leader to thinking and acting as the owner of cash flow can be a powerful tool.   Finance and accounting staff have historically only been tasked with producing cash flow forecasts based on inputs from other leaders.

We suggest making a clear organization signal showing reliance on the finance team to go beyond analyzing cash inputs and outputs. The new expectation should include concrete actions aimed at increasing the amount or timing of cash inputs while reducing the amount or timing of cash outputs.  One example of a high impact cash inflow recommendation is to convert the finance team’s experience with both external and internal obstacles to timely collection of receivables into operational practices that eliminate these obstacles in advance.

Refine and Revolutionize Business Processes

Each organization varies in complexity of business processes, capabilities of process analysis, and often very different levels of CEO interest or prioritization of process improvement initiatives.  Given the nature of many small to medium-sized organizations, there can often be aptitude and attitude gaps leading to under prioritizing  detailed data-driven process review work.

Even a small finance team can become the internal champions for generating improved results achieved through documenting and enhancing your most critical processes.   Elevating the CFO to, at minimum, a shared level of ownership with the firm’s operational leaders will apply complementary expertise to process review efforts.  Converting process improvements into additional cash and profit can often involve just a few additional questions that may be missed by other functional areas.

Create Compelling Capital Acquisition Content

There is a high probability that pursuing operational excellence will lead to capturing more cash from optimized processes and deliver positive returns in the short term.

The longer-term benefit of intense CFO involvement in the operational aspects of the company is the ability to work with the owner to put a more convincing investment case forward to potential sources of debt or equity financing.   Revenue growth is understandably the primary focal point for future investment; however,  the business case is significantly strengthened by a tangible action plan showcasing gross margin enhancement, profit improvement and positive cash generation.

Reviewing, examining and revising processes has always been part of running a successful enterprise.  Although most companies have made improvements over the life of their business; there is often a substantial opportunity to further optimize the organization’s capability to convert every dollar of revenue into more profit and more cash.   One of the positive byproducts of the turmoil related to the pandemic is that business owners, management and employees are more aware and likely more open to the need for change than ever before.   The time is right for businesses to count on their CFO to bring a thorough, disciplined methodology to deliver operational excellence and improved financial results. Uncover more.

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