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

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 Centre 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 Centre 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 Centre ‘Entrepreneur Journey’: our ‘secret sauce’

All CFO Centre CFOs operate within an environment that provides comprehensive support and expertise. The CFO Centre 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 Centre 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 Centre 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 Centre 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 Centre CFO aims to unlock that potential and give wings to the dream.

 

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How to Double the Size of Your Business in 2021

While much uncertainty still remains after the craziness of 2020, our Chairman Colin Mills talks about his process on how to significantly grow your business.

“The best advice I ever received for ‘doubling’ the size of our business, was to list down the Top 20 things we could do to increase the revenue by 10 times. You can then identify the Top 3 activities to concentrate on for the following year” says Colin.

So let’s say you’re a $4million business. Spend a few hours listing out the 20 things you could do to turn this into a $40million business over the next 12 months. This will force you to think outside the box and away from small incremental changes you can make.

I suggest you then spend another hour or so considering the Top 3 activities. These will be the activities that are most likely to get you towards your goal of $40m.

You then have the top 3 activities to focus on over the next 12 months that may well enable you to double your turnover.

For each of those top 3 activities, develop clear action plans on how you are going to achieve results.

Next, get input from your management team (including your CFO of course) in developing these action plans.

Don’t forget to consider the risk and downsides to each of your priorities. Then develop strategies to mitigate the risks you identify.

Above all, ensure your plans are realistic and find capacity that can support your ideas. Your CFO should be able to support you in developing finance and funding to ensure your growth plan is realistic.

The overall economic climate won’t allow all business to double their size this year. However, this radical approach for business growth will hopefully enable some to change their thinking from doom & gloom towards optimism and growth. As Henry Ford famously said “If you think you can, or think you can’t, either way you’ll be right!”

The CFO Centre is the global No.1 provider of part-time CFOs. We are dedicated to making a real difference for our clients and their businesses.
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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.

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The Operator Highlights

Thriving in the New World Operator

In this series of Thriving in the New World, The CFO Centre 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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Thriving in the New World Strategist

Thriving in a New World Strategist

In the introduction to our CFO Contribution Series, Thriving In the New World Strategist, we suggested that most business owners may not be well served by high-level, third party driven, divergent strategic exercises. Certainly, there is significant value in undertaking far reaching, blue sky thinking. Most small to medium size organizations will be better served by incorporating their own foresight into targeted, most probable future scenarios developed by highly engaged participants directly linked to the success of the business.

There can be no doubt the Covid 19 pandemic has led to unprecedented change for most businesses. Revenue levels have plunged for some firms while others are experiencing unexpected increases in new customers and unforecasted demand levels. Supply Chains have been disrupted. Optimizing employee productivity and satisfaction have become more art than science. Short-term cash availability and long term capital requirements are highly uncertain. Even the most confident experts are reluctant to make a call on the economic climate we are likely to experience a year from now or even six months from now.

Success in this uncharted New World requires business owners to make effective decisions to address today’s challenges and to establish a strong market position in an uncertain future. We call this Future Proofing your business. The path forward will be unique for every enterprise. For most businesses, the contribution of an integrated senior financial leader can be a major factor in making the best decisions for steering the business towards a successful future.

Owner operators will particularly benefit by injecting their full time or part time CFO into idea

generation and implementation planning to future proof their business using the following four-step process.

Developing Most Probable Future Scenarios

The insight of the CEO along with sales and market-oriented management will understandably be

essential to develop and select three or four most likely market scenarios. Important dimensions for assessing your business’ future would include revenue outlook, new revenue sources, changes in access to customers or preferences of customers, competitive forces, regulatory factors and assessment of staff effectiveness. Identifying these factors specific to your business and your industry should be considered in conjunction with the team’s projections of potential future operating environments.

Involving a holistic professional with the ability to stretch the team’s future thinking to include the full spectrum of potential obstacles often leads to more robust, more complete future scenarios. Team members should expect the organization’s financial leader to embrace the uncertainties inherent in guessing at potential futures while also expecting them to act as a catalyst to describe the leading scenarios with sufficient clarity to facilitate resiliency testing and implementation planning.

Leveraging Emerging Technology

The pace of change over the past five to ten years combined with the recent accelerated societal and economic changes linked to the pandemic forces all businesses to adapt and respond quicker and more intensively than ever before. Adapting and responding effectively requires timely and appropriate application of emerging technology solutions to uncover new connections to customers and to unlock methods to streamline and enhance business processes.

A few of the more pervasive and perhaps highest potential technology trends destined to shape the future are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain Technology and Internet of Things. Finance leaders bring essential analytical skills, as well as opportunity and risk assessment expertise. These attributes will help the business select the most advantageous solutions and deploy these applications to deliver favourable returns.

Stress Testing Scenarios and Strategies

Once the business has collaboratively generated their high probability future scenarios and articulated corresponding strategies to maximize results; a critical need emerges for disciplined evaluation to ensure the selected paths forward can stand up to expected obstacles and deviations.

The CFO’s involvement in scenario testing is likely to be most accepted and welcomed by the business owner and the future proofing team. A New World CFO is one that passionately embraces uncertainties and optimism while maintaining their proven ability to rigorously apply a check and balance approach to the team’s chosen future scenarios and strategies.

Commitment to Highest Impact Initiatives

The hardest decision for many organizations undertaking future proofing activities during today’s tumultuous environment will be to commit the necessary financial and human resources to those chosen few initiatives expected to best position the business over the next six months to five years.

Creating the internal and external confidence to act now often hinges on the development of concise, compelling business cases to define the initiative, its costs and expected profits. The involvement of your financial leader in the entire future proofing process will significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of these strategic business cases. In situations where the organization is seeking external financing or participation from partnering organizations; the voice of an informed, engaged, credible CFO will be a significant factor in securing the desired external support.

Business owners and their management teams have the responsibility to navigate the firm through today’s urgent challenges and opportunities. They also bear the greater responsibility to establish direction and take action to prepare the organization to succeed for many years ahead. A New World CFO welcomes this responsibility and possesses the knowledge and dedication needed to deliver results today and in the future. Discover more.

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Thriving in the New World Leadership Series

Introducing the Thriving in the New World Series

Thriving in the New World series is The CFO Centre’s unique approach on how we can truly make a difference to your business. Explore how a transformational CFO, as a Strategist, Operator, Leader and Guardian, is essential to future proof your business.

The Covid-19 pandemic has transported almost every business into a new reality with greater obstacles and greater, or certainly different, opportunities. Many business owners are operating at ground level to address challenges that threaten the livelihood of their employees, the continuity of their customers and the future of their business.

Now is not the time for strategic retreats, or high-level consulting reviews. Entrepreneurs that thrive in this new world will be those that combine their experience and knowledge with the insights and expertise of involved, committed individuals. These entrepreneurs will possess the mindset to navigate each day’s most pressing issues while charting the course for the business to move forward.

Now is the time to ensure your business is enjoying the leadership and hands on guidance of a New World CFO. Accenture defines the new CFO as a “value-oriented individual who views the world through a different lens” . They see themselves as value architects whose primary focus is helping the organization drive profitable growth.

All businesses have staff or advisors in place to manage the financial requirements of their business.

Perhaps more than ever before, businesses of all sizes, and all stages of development will benefit from finance oriented leadership that goes far beyond the numbers, far beyond basic reporting and far beyond being the controller or watchdog for the business.

If you own and operate a small to medium-sized business, you may have gotten by without access to the “C” level expertise of an experienced CFO. Thriving in your new world may require access to a proven, holistic financial leader driven to grow your business profitably.

This four-part – New World CFO series will provide specific, understandable and implementable information designed to help your business thrive and survive. Uncover more about the benefits of futureproofing.

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Impementation Timetable | The CFO Centre

Why a timeline or timetable is essential for implementing your business plan

In building your business, do you ever:

  • Feel out of control – you’re getting by, dealing with one crisis after another, but just barely hanging on?
  • Find that your longstanding products and services just aren’t selling like they used to, but you can’t find time to develop new offerings?
  • Think about retiring after selling out to a group of your employees, but you know that they (and you) are nowhere near to making that possible? (see our post on exiting your business for more on that)

A big step towards resolving these issues, and many others, is to have a business plan – an effective business plan.

Many businesses get by without one. “It’s in my head,” you might say. Or, it could be a document you put together years ago, maybe because your bank required it to extend financing, and you haven’t looked at it since.

But as the CFO Centre’s e-book “Business planning and strategy implementation” points out, according to a survey by business and finance software provider Exact, companies that have a business plan in place were more than twice as successful at achieving their goals than those that did not (a 69% success rate versus 31%).

What’s wrong with many business plans?

If having a business plan is so important, how can your company get the best possible benefit out of the work that goes into preparing one?

Our work here at the CFO Centre has found that while having a business plan helps, there are some important elements to success (many of these are presented in more detail in the e-book).

One is that the plan must be a living document – it needs to be something that you review frequently, updating it as circumstances change, and using it to provide guidance on what your daily, monthly and yearly priorities should be.

Another aspect of success, believe it or not, involves packaging. You may be aware that a business plan that is used as a finance-obtaining tool will succeed more if it features attractive layout and design. But having a document that’s pleasant to look at – not just text on a page – will work better even if it’s just used internally. That’s because the people who read it, including you, will have a greater sense of confidence that the ideas in it can be made to happen.

How a timeline helps make it all happen

But the one important aspect, that many business plans miss, is the element of time. Without a clear picture of what is to happen by what time, a business plan is just a wish-list.

The best way to help make sure that the business plan stays alive – and more importantly so that what’s in it comes to pass – is through including a timeline.

A timeline (or timetable, if you prefer) sets out the milestones of your business plan – the number of employees, number of locations, sales targets, net revenue expected and other targets – and indicates what date they are expected to be reached.

For example, let’s say you have a winning retail concept that you want to turn into a franchise. Maybe even a national franchise.

To do that, you need to determine what processes need to be implemented in order to manage a store like yours effectively. That, in turn, leads to a set of written procedures –  such as the steps to be taken upon opening the store or on closing, how to make each of the products that are sold, and other aspects of success. Maybe then you need to establish a time by which you expect to have that first satellite operation running, maybe as a corporate-owned location, just to see what happens when you’re not on site to trouble-shoot all the time.

It could be that this sounds so complicated and intimidating that you never actually get your franchising idea off the ground.

Here’s how a timeline helps make your business plan happen:

  • It breaks down big, scary projects into smaller, bite-sized chunks you can actually do
  • It reassures you by pointing out that you don’t need to do everything right now
  • It moves you along because you see a deadline for one of those “chunks” coming up, so you can get working on it

Start with the end in mind, then work backward

This involves a  5  step process.

  1. Get a firm image of your goal. Established business wisdom says to consider first where you want to be (say, 20 franchise outlets across the country, ten years from now) and then spell out in detail what that will look like. Going into detail gives you a more clear idea of what needs to be in place for that to happen. Set a date for that to happen.

 

  1. Determine the big milestones along the way. This might include writing out the elements of success in your current business, creating written procedures, testing those procedures to see if they cover all reasonable contingencies, opening a second outlet to further test those procedures, selling your first franchise to someone you know already, and onwards.

 

  1. Think of the resources you’ll need. For example, at some point, you’ll need to engage a franchise lawyer to consult and help in the preparation of a franchise agreement. Think of the finance you’ll need to have in place, maybe from a bank or friend-or-family source, to make the rest happen (to learn more about how to avoid cash-flow problems that might drag you down, see our post here).

 

  1. Write out your timeline. It might be on paper, on a computerized document, on a calendar program that will remind you about deadlines, or whatever works for you. Maybe multiple formats will be a good way to keep you on track.

 

  1. Implement. The rest is up to you and your team. Delegate tasks, outsource, do it yourself – but be sure to stay with your timeline.
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