By Chris Carl
Regional Director at The CFO Centre
A part-time CFO is to an SME what a doctor, a physical trainer, and a world-class coach is to a superstar athlete. The superstar athlete will always be good – but they will only be great if they are healthy (the doctor makes sure of that), they are in great physical shape (the trainer takes care of that) and that they can compete at a world-class level (the world-class coach takes care of that). In a business setting, the CFO Centre refers to these same three levels of conditioning as Business Support (being healthy), Operational Skills (getting in great physical shape), and Strategic Planning (competing at a world class level).
The highly experienced and successful part-time CFOs from The CFO Centre can help make a company flourish in every respect. From increased profitability, to growth through financing or mergers and acquisitions, to increased happiness in the C-suite and all employees, a part-time CFO can literally help perform miracles. But, these results can only be achieved through sound business practices and a great strategic plan. A successful experienced CFO, that costs only a fraction of a full-time CFO, can make all of these happen.
This article (part 4 of 4) discusses developing and implementing a Strategic Plan to make your company able to compete in any market.
In our final comparison to becoming a world-class athlete, regardless of how strong an athlete you may be, you will never compete at a world-champion level without a great coach. That coach helps you develop your plan to get to the top of the podium – from taking stock of where you stand today, to figuring out what actions might hurt you if not attended to, to laying out a timetable to achieve each part of your overall goal. That coach ensures that you have all of the right resources around you that you will need to win that championship, he/she does a lot more than sit on the sidelines and clap when you perform well.
In business terms, to be able to achieve all of your business goals, (and maybe some you thought were beyond your wildest dreams) you need a Strategic Plan. Don’t confuse this with a wish list. A Strategic Plan involves setting very high goals but it also requires taking stock of your current situation, identifying the risks you need to overcome to achieve your goals, a step-by-step path and resources required to get you there, and a definitive timetable for each step to make sure it all happens. Once in place, it also requires execution.
At The CFO Centre, we believe the highest value we can bring to any client is to help them develop, and execute a “Strategic Plan” that takes the company well beyond what the CEO even thought possible. By following the path of the four key elements, a part-time CFO will bring financial abundance to the company. At the CFO Centre, we define these 4 key elements as:
Strategic Planning can sound lofty and somewhat irrelevant to a company that is in the trenches every day just fighting to survive. But it is exactly what the company needs to get them out of the trenches and on to a much better playing field. A Strategic Plan is like a roadmap and without one, the company will wander aimlessly without direction. And when communicated properly, it helps great alignment and purpose within an organization.
For example, one company I worked with as an investor had world-class technology to help other companies optimize cleanliness and environmental compliance in a manufacturing setting. The small management team was very strong and had great breadth between technical, marketing and financial experience and skill. And while they knew they had a world-class technology, they could not generate the marketing and sales dollars sufficient for them to access and educate the larger customers they desired. By selling to smaller customers, their unit sizes were smaller and they had to keep prices (and therefore margins) low just to be able to make the sale. The result: they were losing money or barely breaking even month after month and year after year.
When I met them through a fellow investor, I found a team that was capable, very focused on getting the job done, and who really knew exactly what they wanted in the long term. BUT, they were stuck in a low margin rut and couldn’t find a way out. So I suggested we take a few more hours out of their life for a few weeks and develop a Strategic Plan.
This plan had to be real, but it also had to lay out a path for them to get to point that they could be selling this amazing equipment to the large customers who needed it most. We sat down and recorded all of the possible goals (crazy ones and real ones), and we looked at all the things that could stop us. While there were many small issues we solved, or developed a plan for, in this process, one of the best examples of how a great Strategic Plan could work was in deciding how to increase product awareness and sales to the desired customers.
Everyone at the company felt that they needed to bring on a couple of top-notch sales people who could cover the continent. The problem was that, just like a full time CFO, highly qualified experienced sales people are expensive to employ full-time and for this company the selling process could take up to a year. That was an added overhead the company just could not afford. So instead we looked to how we could leverage the skills of others and decided that if we could possibly find distributors who already sell products to our desired large customers, maybe they could be our conduits to sales.
So we laid out a plan, and a timetable (the most critical element is that you MUST have a timetable). We decided that we wanted a distributor in 50 States and 12 provinces. I suggested to the team that we set a goal of 1 year to achieve this and I was almost laughed out of the room. “Impossible” they said. But, not wanting to leave and still wanting to become an investor, I asked them not to think about it as 50 new distributors in the US and 12 in Canada a year, but rather 4 distributors in the US and 1 in Canada each month. I suggested that by breaking this seemingly insurmountable plan down into bite sized pieces that not only might we get there, we might just get there faster than we think.
After much debate, not only did we agree to give this a try, but with everyone being so busy we asked everyone on the team to contribute just a little bit. That meant sharing our plan with other customers and contacts, getting on line to research who might be out there, and start making calls. The admin assistant of the company drove the process by recording and organizing everyone’s efforts and new contacts daily, and by doing lots of outreach on her own as well. The team developed financial terms that were good for the distributor that would also be great for the company, and the sales manager found a draft Distributor Agreement that was only 2 pages and had the lawyer sign off.
In month one we signed off on 2 of the 5 that was our goal, and in month 2 we got 4 of 5. The numbers increased every month and by the end of month 10 we had a distributor in all 50 States and 12 provinces in Canada. We achieved this “unachievable goal” in 10 months instead of the year – even when the team thought getting it done in a year was impossible.
The result of setting the strategic goal to eastablish a network of Distributors was the company increased the value of the average sale from $20,000 per sale to $125,000, margins increased from 20% per sale to almost 50%, and the customer profile went from a privately owned business with under $5 million in sales to 80% of customers now being listed on the Fortune 500 – and three of them on the Dow 30.
To be fair, there were lots of fits and starts to get to this point, and there were times that it all seemed like it would come crashing down. But, by having that strategic plan to keep going back to and to measure themselves by, and by having a month to month plan of something achievable rather than a one year plan that seemed impossible, the Company did achieve what seemed like impossible goals. And today the same team is still working their butts off to continue growing the company – but they smile a lot more than they used to – and they know their now larger paychecks can be cashed.
There are dozens of stories like this from our CFOs at the CFO Centre. Strategic Planning may seem like fluff when you can barely make payroll next Friday. But in reality, a strategic plan is exactly the tool that a company with great products or services needs. Whether you are barely breaking even, or making millions in profit, EVERY company will grow and improve with a well developed, and well executed, Strategic Plan. The part-time CFO is the perfect resource to help an already busy team make this happen.
Chris Carl has a 30-year career growing manufacturing based companies with novel technologies both as start-ups and within Fortune 500 companies. Having held both CFO and CEO roles, he has raised a combined $500 million in debt, mezzanine and equity financing in private and public companies listed in Canada, the US and Europe.
The CFO Centre provides highly experienced, part-time CFOs to small and mid-market organizations at a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO. We are committed to helping companies work through complex financial issues, in order to maximize profit and provide senior financial leadership.
Our global team has over 400 CFOs across 13 countries; our services include business and strategic plan development, financial reporting, cash flow management, internal control, risk assessment and mitigation, training and development, and negotiations.
1-800-918-1906 or email: [email protected]