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From Zero to Hero

Business control is vital – at both ends of the business spectrum

After the first flush of start-up, many business owners find themselves faced with common problems caused by business control. Those problems tend to polarise into coping with potential failure or run-away success – the ‘zero or hero’ scenario.

The heroes are fast-growing, successful businesses, usually with considerable drive and enthusiasm from business owners. Heroes are clearly going in the right direction, and appear to be getting there rapidly. However, like a fast train, without good control systems, knowing when to slow down or accelerate and understanding all the signals – a hero-business can easily run out of track and suffer a spectacular crash.

The zeros are those businesses that for some reason are finding life difficult. These can often be potentially great businesses, but they find themselves in a situation where their viability may be threatened, again by poor business control.

It is immaterial whether businesses fail with a huge fall or sink slowly and uncontrollably, the result is always the same.

Issues facing the business hero

Hero-business owners are often extremely enthusiastic, have great business ideas, products or services and are consumed with ambitions for growth. Such businesses, led by their highly driven business owners, are usually great to work in, customers and suppliers alike are impressed with the never say die attitudes.

Prime amongst the issues for the fast growing start up is being under-capitalised – the great idea can often die as a result of just not having enough cash. The enthusiastic owner whose vision drives the business can suffer from a lack of vision for coping with growth.

Dealing with the zero scenario

Zero businesses are strugglers. They can be fallen heroes; however they are usually businesses that have striven to survive almost from day one. They often adopt a wait and see policy, hoping that things will get better.

They are usually characterised by a lack of profitability and cash. The constant pressure of trying to juggle cash to make ends meet overshadows the viability of the business and the potential success that lies within.

Driving up the zero and controlling the hero

As with the medical profession, prevention is always better than cure. However, even business cases that may appear terminal can often be rescued.

The solution lies in business-based financial support and advice. The problem facing both heroes and zeros is finding and funding that advice. Frequently, business owners bemoan the difficulty in finding and sourcing affordable advice. However, in some cases they cannot afford to be without that advice.

Finding advisors with the right track record

As with so many other things, the business owner should go for experience. Someone who has “been there seen it and done it”. One immediate response is to hand the problem to the accountant. This can provide a solution, but in reality, most external accountants are not experienced in running a business.

An experienced chief financial officer (CFO) is invaluable in recognising the danger signals and providing solutions, they know how to finance a business, deal with growth, present meaningful monthly numbers and get the best deals from banks.  At some point both heroes and zeros need this experience but they probably don’t need it full time – this is where an outsourced CFO provides the best solution. Watch a 3 minute video here to find out how you can take on one of Canada’s leading CFOs for a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee.

Access financial management skills at a fraction of the cost of a full-time resource

Owners of hero to zero businesses are prime candidates for an outsourced part time CFO solution. With the outsource option, business owners can access a financial management skill set, that is experienced in dealing with problems and opportunities, able to organise both the in-house and external accounts functions and provide the necessary business advice.

The outsourced CFO has the skill set to plan and implement the controls needed to help the zero business survive and the hero business to grow positively. Additionally, an outsourced or virtual solution does not impact payroll or headcount with the business only charged for the days worked – which may only be a few days per month.

Business owners – zeros or heroes – cannot afford to be without business-based financial advice. The outsourced CFO should be their first priority, before they hit the problems, after all the more time a business has to rectify a situation the more chance of success. Watch our 60 second video on how our outsource model works: www.thecfocentre.ca

Future Proof Your Business

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‘Discipline’ or ‘Purpose’ – which one wins in the race for growth?

Jim Collins, the veteran author of Good to Great, believes that “10x companies” – i.e. those which outperform their industry average by 10 times or more – possess 3 fundamental and distinctive traits:

1. Fanatic discipline and monomaniacal focus on achieving goals.

2. Empirical creativity: an obsession with facts over opinion and a readiness to ignore conventional wisdom once armed with these facts.

3. Productive paranoia:  constant worry which fuels relentless preparation and precautions against even the most improbably bad events.

To illustrate 10Xers at work, Collins, along with his co-author Marten Hansen goes on to give some wonderful examples.

“Even his contingencies had contingencies”.

Drawing from outside of the business world, he tells the story of Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole. While Scott took a somewhat relaxed and cavalier approach to the expedition, Amundsen’s level of preparation was truly extraordinary.

Even his contingency plans had contingencies. In some cases there were even contingencies to the contingencies within the contingency plans! He was the personification of productive paranoia which gave him the confidence to march forward, with a sense of knowing that when the inevitable challenges arose, his obsessive levels of preparation – the way in which he managed his risk – would be forgiving when mistakes were made or unforeseen circumstances arose.

Relentless Tester

Amundsen was a relentless ‘tester’ – In preparation for his journey, he ate raw dolphin meat to see if it could provide a decent energy supply. He loaded up with far more supplies than Scott to serve a much smaller team. And, tellingly, for Collins and Hansen, Scott took just one thermometer, which disastrously broke, whereas Amundsen brought four.
Amundsen reached the pole more than a month before Scott and made it back alive. ‘Amundsen and Scott achieved dramatically different outcomes,’ Collins and Hansen write, ‘because they displayed very different behaviours.’

By looking ahead and forecasting potential issues and pitfalls Amundsen engendered in himself and his team a reassuring sense of confidence. By doing the hard work up front, they made the journey somehow ‘easier’ for themselves, in the best sense of the word.

Why Microsoft thumped Apple in the mid 1980s to 1990s

The same applies to companies and helps explain why US company Southwest Airlines trounced its discount rivals and why Microsoft thumped Apple in the mid-1980s to 1990s.

Bill Gates used to keep a photograph of Henry Ford in his office to remind himself of how Ford had been overtaken by General Motors in the early days of the car industry. Gates wanted the constant reminder that, however well Microsoft did, there was almost certainly some younger version of himself toiling in obscurity to one day knock him from his perch.

The 20 mile march

Armed with these behaviours, 10X companies set off on what Collins and Hansen call the ’20 mile march’, a long period of sustained growth, characterized by hitting well-defined performance targets and demonstrating both resolve and control.

Through the discipline of behaving consistently over time and proving resistant to a changing marketplace, an organization discovers self-control. And this, far more than more nebulous ideas such as innovation or creativity, is what determines 10X success.
They compare the process of successful innovation to firing bullets in order to zone in on your target, and only then heaving a cannonball at it to do the job properly. Disasters happen when one uncalibrated cannonball after another is fired, each big, reckless bet made in the hope of recovering from the last one, with little or no time taken to test the waters.
One of the most important lessons in the book is that innovation is not always the surest route to success. In their comparisons of companies in the same industry, notably the biotech firms Amgen and Genentech, Collins and Hansen found that it was the less innovative firm, Amgen, that generated better returns for investors over 20 years. Sometimes, it serves companies to be ‘one fad behind’.
Consistent with this idea is the authors’ assertion that the 10X companies are not the brash risk-takers, but the ones that prepare rigorously for what they cannot predict, the antithesis of many Wall Street banks before the 2008 financial collapse. These companies hoard cash and keep comfortable buffers in every area of their business, just in case. They are hyper-realists, who act according to Collins and Hansen’s ‘SMaC’ methodology, being ‘Specific, Methodical and Consistent’.

Purpose vs Discipline – 10Xing the 10Xers

In 2004, the All Blacks were beaten convincingly by the Springboks.

The incoming All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, found a team that had lost its mojo, its sense of togetherness and most importantly its purpose.

As the number 1 team in the world for so many years, what did they have left to achieve?
Henry inspired the team with a new vision that went beyond the individual players themselves.

The vision was to create a values based, purpose driven team, playing for something bigger than themselves.

His watchword was ‘legacy’: for every single player to leave their jersey in a better place.

His philosophy: “when you’re on top of your game, change your game.”

The culture he created, defined by a collective sense of purpose was like none other in All Blacks history.

The result?

They reached a totally new level of success. With a staggering 87% win rate they went on to win every possible piece of silverware.

Firms of Endearment

In his seminal book, Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia, charts the rise of the purpose driven business.

He shows that organizations aligned around their true purpose exponentially outperform their competition.

In fact, he argues that ‘purpose’ is the magic fuel that can break the bonds of conventional growth and take companies to a whole new space, outperforming Collins’ Good to Great companies.

When times are tough and external circumstances are beyond our control, often the best place to look is inwards.

When we remind ourselves of what our true purpose is, in life and in business, we tap into an energy that gives us the fuel to change the world, or at least some small part of it.

At The CFO Centre our mission is to help companies define their true purpose – what they really want from their life/business – and build the plan to actually make it happen.

In fact, we help you bring the discipline described by Collins into your business to give you the space to tap into your true purpose and build a legacy you can be proud of.

If you would like to have a conversation about your ambition for your own business contact us at www.thecfocentre.ca or [email protected]

Future Proof Your Business

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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.
Rate your company’s finance function 
here. You’ll receive a valuable 8 page bespoke report on the 3 main areas for improvement.

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Improve your banking relationship

“The time to speak to your bank manager is when you don’t need them, not when you do”.
Colin Mills, Founder, The FD Centre

As banks deal with SMEs in every industry, they are also an excellent source of information and advice about marketing, expansion, fraud prevention, and e-commerce. Some banks take the initiative and offer their customers business ideas and opportunities. So if you don’t have a strong relationship with your bank, you’re missing out in many ways that could help your business to prosper.

In this 2-part article, we will see why you should develop a strong relationship with your bank and how a part-time CFO will strengthen your banking relationship.

Introduction

Very few business owners appreciate the value of having a strong relationship with their bank.

“Many executives still view a bank as a vendor, selling money, rather than a partner, providing ideas and solutions to improve their business,” says Steve Rosvold, Founder and CEO of KRM Business Solutions.¹

A recent survey of UK SMEs found that a staggering 73% have no contact with their bank relationship manager.² . The survey commissioned by cloud services provider BCSG, found that few SMEs had personal contact with their banks either face to face or via digital channels. Forty-one percent never visited a bank branch.

Too often business owners leave getting acquainted with their bank manager until their finances are in such a mess the situation is desperate. That is the worse time to approach a bank. For as Bob Hope once joked, a bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.

Why you should develop a strong relationship with your bank

Having a borrowing history and a solid relationship with your bank will make it easier for you to get credit.

It’s important to educate the bank on your business, your strategy and your financials so that they are fully aware of your business and the vision you have for it, says banking expert, Peter Black of Snowball Consulting.³

“You need to have a good relationship with your bank,” says Black. “If you treat the bank as a commodity and don’t tell them anything, then when you need them most, they may not be there.”

Banks need to know:

  • Who your customers are
  • Who your vendors are
  • What is going on in your industry.

For that to happen, you need to establish regular communication with your bank manager.

“Tell the bank the good and the bad news in equal measure, as and when it occurs,” recommends Black. “If you have a new contract or a good story, tell the bank about it. Many don’t do this.” There’s more to it than regular phone calls, however. You also need to demonstrate that you have a coherent strategy and follow it, says Black. That will help to establish your credibility too.

“Continually changing the strategy or appearing to move from one to another does not give the bank confidence,” says Black. “The worst situation to be in is one where the bank does not even understand your strategy.”

Make sure the forecasts you provide are realistic and credible, recommends Black. “The bank will build up a history of how accurate the forecasts are that a business provides. No forecast can ever be totally accurate, but the banks see no end of forecasts showing a massive increase in profits and cash just to underpin the latest request.”

  • Let your banker know about regulatory changes that could have an impact on your company’s growth opportunities.
  • Share your company’s long-term strategy with the bank. Your bank may be able to provide additional resources to help you achieve your goals.
  • Schedule regular meetings with your bank throughout the year so that he or she gets an accurate picture of your business. It will also make it more likely the bank will respond faster when needs or opportunities occur.

The stronger your relationship is with your bank, the better they will be able to understand your business when you come to them for advice and solutions to help it grow.

Banks know things don’t always go as planned. They want to be comfortable that they understand your ability to deal with these situations and make good decisions to improve, building a track record with them based on trust, sharing information and debate. It’s astonishing how many business owners don’t invest in building a track record and strong relationship with their bank.

If you don’t have a good relationship with your bank manager, you’re missing out on more than a possible future credit facility. You’re missing a valuable free resource for advice and information.

At a recent event focusing on how to build a world-class finance function, CFO Centre Group CEO, Sara Daw, found only four out of 50 business owners who attended considered their bank was a strategic partner to their business. This is far too low. At The CFO Centre, we make building a strong value-adding relationship with your bank a priority.

Your bank can provide a regular evaluation of your business and financial strategy, as well as ideas and solutions to overcome many challenges you might face.

Banks also offer a wide array of services including:

  • Cash management tools
  • Credit card processing
  • Online and mobile banking services

Since banks deal with SMEs in every industry, they are also an excellent source of information and advice about marketing, expansion, fraud prevention, and e-commerce.

They can walk you through your balance sheet and explain how they perceive your finances and business. They can also learn more about where and when you’re likely to need the money to grow the business.

Giving information and asking for advice helps to build trust between you and your bank manager. Gradually, you learn to trust their advice and they begin to trust in your ability to repay your loans.

Banks hate surprises so if your business is encountering problems, it’s important to let your bank manager know as soon as possible. If you know that you’re likely to miss payments or be late in paying vendors, let your bank manager know in advance so they can assess the situation and provide you with options.

This will also demonstrate to your bank manager that you can manage the business and also be trusted to inform the bank before the problem gets worse. Your bank manager might even be able to extend your line of credit or temporarily waive your fees.

You can increase your chances of getting a loan or credit extension by demonstrating your ability to repay, whether it is a short-term overdraft or a longer term loan. The bank will expect to see the proof so you’ll need to provide the following documents:

  • Your track record
  • Your previous results
  • A business plan (which needs to cover how the company started, your products/services; the management of the business and its plans for the future; market research undertaken to support assumptions and forecasts; and your financial requirements)
  • Your last audited accounts
  • Current and up-to-date management accounts Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable lists A budget for the current/next trading year
  • A cash flow forecast

Follow us for part II of this article and discover how a how a part-time CFO will strengthen your banking relationship.

____________________

1 ‘Why Your Company Needs a Good Banking Relationship’, Rosvold, Steve, KRM Business Solutions, http://businessfinancialconsulting.com, Feb 26, 2014
2 ‘73% of UK SMEs have no contact with their bank relationship manager’, BCSG, www.bcsg.comSep 17, 2015
3 ‘How to get the most out of your banking relationship’, Black, Peter, Forum of Private Business, www.fpb.org

Banking relationship | The CFO Centre

Improve your banking relationship

Baking Relationship | The CFO Center

Developing a strong relationship with your bank provides tremendous benefits including offering necessary funding, preferential rates, and better terms. Your bank can provide expert financial  advice and help you to find solutions to financial challenges. It can also help you to grow your business and reach your financial objectives.

Since your bank works with a wide variety of businesses, it can also be an excellent source of prospective vendors, partners, and customers for your business.

As banks deal with SMEs in every industry, they are also an excellent source of information and advice about marketing, expansion, fraud prevention, and e-commerce. Some banks take the initiative and offer their customers business ideas and opportunities. So if you don’t have a strong relationship with your bank, you’re missing out in many ways that could help your business to prosper.

Very few business owners appreciate the value of having a strong relationship with their bank.

Why you should develop a strong relationship with your bank

Having a borrowing history and a solid relationship with your bank will make it easier for you to get credit.

It’s important to educate the bank on your business, your strategy, and your financials so that they are fully aware of your business and the vision you have for it, says banking expert, Peter Black of Snowball Consulting.1

Banking Relationship | The CFO Centre“You need to have a good relationship with your bank,” says Black. “If you treat the bank as a commodity and don’t tell them anything, then when you need them most, they may not be there.”

“Tell the bank the good and the bad news in equal measure, as and when it occurs,” recommends Black. “If you have a new contract or a good story, tell the bank about it. Many don’t do this.”

There’s more to it than regular phone calls, however. You also need to demonstrate that you have a coherent strategy and follow it, says Black. That will help to establish your credibility too.

“Continually changing the strategy or appearing to move from one to another does not give the bank confidence,” says Black. “The worst situation to be in is one where the bank does not even understand your strategy.”

Make sure the forecasts you provide are realistic and credible, recommends Black. “The bank will build up a history of how accurate the forecasts are that a business provides. No forecast can ever be totally accurate, but the banks see no end of forecasts showing a massive increase in profits and cash just to underpin the latest request.”

Let your banker know about regulatory changes that could have an impact on your company’s growth opportunities.

Banks need to know:

  • Who your customers are
  • Who your vendors are
  • What is going on in your industry

For that to happen, you need to establish regular communication with your bank manager.

Share your company’s long-term strategy with the bank. Your bank may be able to provide additional resources to help you achieve your goals.

Schedule regular meetings with your bank throughout the year so that he or she gets an accurate picture of your business. It will also make it more likely the bank will respond faster when needs or opportunities occur.

Baking Relationship | The CFO CentreThe stronger your relationship is with your bank, the better they will be able to understand your business when you come to them for advice and solutions to help it grow. Banks know things don’t always go as planned. They want to be comfortable that they understand your ability to deal with these situations and make good decisions to improve, building a track record with them based on trust, sharing information and debate. It’s astonishing how many business owners don’t invest in building a track record and strong relationship with their bank.

At a recent event focusing on how to build a world-class finance function, CFO Centre Group CEO, Sara Daw, found only four out of 50 business owners who attended considered their bank was a strategic partner to their business. This is far too low. At The CFO Centre, we make building a strong value-adding relationship with your bank a priority.

If you don’t have a good relationship with your bank manager, you’re missing out on more than a possible future credit facility. You’re missing a valuable free resource for advice and information.

Your bank can provide a regular evaluation of your business and financial strategy, as well as ideas and solutions to overcome many challenges you might face.

Banks also offer a wide array of services including:

  • Cash management tools
  • Credit card processing
  • Online and mobile banking services

Since banks deal with SMEs in every industry, they are also an excellent source of information and advice about marketing, expansion, fraud prevention, and e-commerce.

Banking Relationship | The CFO CentreThey can walk you through your balance sheet and explain how they perceive your finances and business. They can also learn more about where and when you’re likely to need the money to grow the business.

Giving information and asking for advice helps to build trust between you and your bank manager. Gradually, you learn to trust their advice and they begin to trust in your ability to repay your loans.

Banks hate surprises so if your business is encountering problems, it’s important to let your bank manager know as soon as possible. If you know that you’re likely to miss payments or be late in paying vendors, let your bank manager know in advance so they can assess the situation and provide you with options.

This will also demonstrate to your bank manager that you can manage the business and also be trusted to inform the bank before the problem gets worse. Your bank manager might even be able to extend your line of credit or temporarily waive your fees.

You can increase your chances of getting a loan or credit extension by demonstrating your ability to repay, whether it is a short-term overdraft or a longer-term loan. The bank will expect to see the proof so you’ll need to provide the following documents:

  • Your track record
  • Your previous results
  • A business plan (which needs to cover how the company started, your products/services; the management of the business and its plans for the future; market research undertaken to support assumptions and forecasts; and your financial requirements)
  • Your last audited accounts
  • Current and up-to-date management accounts
  • Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable lists
  • A budget for the current/next trading year
  • A cash flow forecast

How a part-time CFO will strengthen your banking relationship

Baking Relationship | The CFO CentreMany business owners are uncomfortable speaking with their bank manager. Owners and CEOs often do not know how to communicate their business strategy and needs to the bank and do not know what information the bank needs to support their funding requests. This is where an experienced CFO can be an essential part of your team; someone who understands how banks make their decisions and can, therefore, position your application for a greater chance of success.

Your part-time CFO will:

  • Develop a relationship with key personnel at your bank.
  • Share information about your business with the bank and keep the bank fully updated. The more trust that can be built the more the bank will be willing to help.
  • Provide the bank with a credible business plan which takes into account previous track record including debt and cash flow history.
  • Provide you with independent advice on bank products and their suitability.
  • Negotiate the best deal on bank facilities.
  • Provide access to senior contacts in the bank where required.
  • Introduce new banking options if needed and negotiate terms.

Your part-time CFO will work hard to forge a strong relationship with your bank so that when you need access to any of the bank’s services your request is treated as a priority.

What’s more, your part-time CFO has many years of banking experience so can advise you on the best banking deals.

Your part-time CFO knows where to go for supplementary funding to complement your bank finance (if necessary) and how to benchmark funding deals for your peace of mind.

CFOs can skillfully communicate your needs in a way that appeals to bank managers. That helps to add further credibility to your credit application.

Conclusion

Your bank can play a significant role in your company’s future growth, both in terms of providing necessary funding and strategic advice.

That will only happen if you take the necessary time and energy to foster a relationship with your bank manager. The benefits of doing so, however, make it one of the best investments you’ll make.

1 ‘How to get the most out of your banking relationship’, Black, Peter, Forum of Private Business, www.fpb.org

CFO vs Controller

The difference between a CFO and a Controller

If you’ve ever looked through a storage box holding clothes you wore as a child, you may have wondered, “How did I ever fit into something that small?”

Your company may be in the same situation. The equipment, personnel, and premises that fitted well when the company was starting out, may be constraining its growth as it matures.

One of the most pressing areas for change may not be your production system, office space or loading dock. If you find that cash shortages are constraining your business, if you don’t know if you can afford to expand your product offering, or you have no real idea which of your products are the most profitable, you may have outgrown your finance function.

Child-sized clothing might have fitted you well when you were small, and it could be that the financial system you had when your company was young, did what you needed it to do.  Most companies start out with the founder keeping track of everything, maybe with the help of a bookkeeper or accountant, later growing into a department with a controller at the head.

But there is a world of difference between the “controller” mindset and the benefits available through someone who is able to help you take your company to a higher level – a Chief Financial Officer, or CFO.

Having access to those skills is important. As noted in the CFO Centre’s e-book, How a CFO Centre top level part-time CFO can transform your business, a CFO brings enormous practical financial and strategic skills and knowledge to your company.

A report by the International Federation of Accountants[1]  quotes James Riley, Group Finance Director and Executive Director, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd.:

A good CFO should be at the elbow of the CEO, ready to support and challenge him/her in leading the business. The CFO should, above all, be a good communicator — to the board on the performance of the business and the issues it is facing; to his/her peers in getting across key information and concepts to facilitate discussion and decision making; and to subordinates so that they are both efficient and motivated.

In this post, you’ll learn about the difference between a controller and a CFO, and why it may be time you made the change – and how you can do that without putting an undue cost burden on your company.

The controller mindset: accuracy, compliance, tactics

All companies need someone with a controller mindset, even if they don’t have that specific title on their business card. The controller watches the details, so you don’t have to. The controller focuses on making sure that financial records are accurate, prepares monthly financial reports, ensures payroll is made on time, invoices are issued and collected and ensures compliance with regulations.

Essentially, the controller manages the company’s books and records and is responsible for the transaction processing in a company and reporting on those transactions.  With the focus on recording and reporting on past events, the controller’s role is mainly backward-looking.

And just to repeat – you need someone who makes sure all of these issues are covered.

But your company, even if it’s small, also needs someone able to watch the big picture. And as it grows, that need becomes more acute.

By comparison, the role of the CFO is to provide forward-looking financial management.  It’s a proactive role since it is concerned with the company’s future financial success.

What are the signs that you may need more than what a controller mindset can provide? Maybe — if you need to understand the risks your company is facing, or you need to know which of several possible ways forward is best to improve performance or help you grow profitability, or it could be that you need to someone to help align the organization by establishing performance metrics and mindset throughout the organization, or perhaps you need to know how to finance your growth.

In short, you don’t just need someone to provide a utility function – you need a combination of coach/advisor regarding the resources you need to make your intended future happen.

The CFO mindset: big-picture, advisor, strategy

The role and responsibilities of a CFO have expanded in the past two decades, according to the International Federation of Accountants.  That expansion it says has been driven by complexity as a result of globalized capital and markets, regulatory and business drivers, a growth in information and communications, and changing expectations of the CFO’s role. Whereas the CFO was once seen as a company’s ‘gatekeeper’, he or she is now expected to participate in driving an organization towards its goals.

The CFO still has the responsibilities for overseeing the Controllers role in record keeping to safeguard the company’s assets and reporting on financial performance

By contrast with a controller, the CFO  expands that role to focus on improving the operating performance of a company, analyzing the numbers and presenting solutions on how to make those numbers better. This can include higher sales, lower costs or greater margins.

A CFO will focus on strategy, helping to shape the company’s overall strategy and direction, as well as a catalyst, instilling a financial approach and mindset throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better[2].

The controller looks to the short term, the CFO is long-term. The controller helps make sure your company is compliant with issues such as environmental reporting and taxes; the CFO helps you design and implement a strategy. The controller seeks to maintain what you have; the CFO helps you expand.

If your company is in a growth phase – or you want it to be in a growth phase, the controller has your back – and the CFO helps you move forward. It means together you can achieve better results, faster.

Feel free to reach out to us here at the CFO Centre. We’ll sit down and have a talk, even if it’s phone or video call, to get an idea of where you want to take your company, and what your options might be to support the growth you want.

Many of the issues in this post are covered in the CFO Centre’s e-book “Financial Reporting,” which goes into detail about the insights that you can gain from a CFO’s strategic view of your company’s financials.

[1] THE ROLE AND EXPECTATIONS OF A FD: A Global Debate on Preparing Accountants for Finance Leadership, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), October 2013, www.ifac.org

[2] ‘Four Faces of the FD’, Perspectives, Deloitte, http://www2.deloitte.com

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.
Scale Up With The CFO Centre

5 key factors to help you sell your business

Any business owner will eventually be faced with the need to sell their business.

It could happen when a medical change or injury makes it impossible to continue, and you need to sell to secure your family’s future. Or maybe an offer comes along that’s just too good to refuse.

Regardless of the reason, it’s always a good idea to take steps to make your business ready for sale at any time. And as Chapter Seven of the CFO Centre’s book “Scale Up” points out, many of those steps will help make your business life easier, less complicated and with fewer unpleasant surprises, right now and ongoing.

The CFO Centre report “Heading for a big exit goes into detail on some of the steps you can take now to get the best possible offer for your business when the time comes – and make your life easier now as well. Here are five key points covered in more detail in that report:

  1. Ownership

A potential purchaser will want clarity around the question of who currently owns the business. If you’re the sole decision-maker in the company, it may be best to have all the shares in your name.

But if you want to reward long-time employees, and support their continued loyalty, you may want to grant or sell some shares to them. If that’s the case, a potential buyer will want to see that there is an effective shareholder’s agreement in place. This reduces uncertainty for the buyer.

  1. Real property

If your business owns real estate, you need to understand that a buyer may view this as a problem – particularly if owning the land is not essential to the success of the business. Consider separating the property from the business, so that a potential owner has the option of avoiding a commitment to an asset that they may not want. One way to deal with this is to put the land into a holding company controlled by you, and then set up a lease agreement for the business to use the property.

  1. Intellectual property

Over the years your company has likely developed trademarks, patents, brands, and industrial processes that are important to the success of the business. You may not think of them as something that has value, however, anyone considering buying the company will want to be sure about the ownership of this intellectual property and its value. So, it may be good to have your company’s IP valued professionally – you may be able to increase the purchase price based on that valuation.

  1. Customer contracts

Many potential buyers will base their purchase decision on the expected ongoing cashflow of the business. So, they’ll want to know about how much of that cashflow comes through dependable contracts. But they’ll also need to know if those contracts will transfer to the new owner – and if a high proportion of the company’s income is due to the customer’s personal loyalty to the owner. Accordingly, it’s good to carry out an analysis of the company’s major customer contracts to see if the future business is sound. Because cashflow is so important in putting a value on a business, consider some of the points raised in our blog post “How your business can fly away from cash problems.”

  1. Financial records

Many owner-operated businesses are operated in a fairly ad-hoc way. If an idea sounds good, the owner relies on their intuition and experience to decide on the next steps.

Potential buyers need to know that there is a plan in place – including a budget each year that they can see closely matches what was actually spent. They need to know that there are not a lot of unnecessary expenses, such as a local softball team sponsorship that is due largely to the owner’s personal interest, rather than its marketing value.

This is one of the areas where an experienced financial professional from the CFO Centre can help. This person can work with you well ahead of time to build a business that is financially successful and therefore attractive to a potential buyer. You’ll also get help with finding out what potential problem areas might cause a potential buyer to lower their offer or just walk away, so you gain the most benefit from the hard work of building your company.

Scale up with the CFO Centre - Disruptive Ideas

Is your business idea disruptive enough?

Maybe you see ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft as arrogant bullies. Or, to you, they’re a breath of fresh air in a world held victim by over-regulated dinosaurs.

But whatever your view, you can’t deny that ride-hailing upended an entire industry. Some taxi companies have tried to compete with the upstarts through rideshare-like mobile apps allowing customers to choose vehicle options, pre-book rides, and pay by smartphone.

Why have ride-sharing services succeeded against well-entrenched opposition? They’re a new idea – but more importantly, they offer real benefits over the traditional taxicab. In short, they’re disruptive.

As we’ll see later, just being disruptive isn’t enough on its own, but it’s an essential part of success.

Disrupt your way to a better customer experience

To see how being “disruptive” works, consider one of the world’s oldest skills – what some parts of the world call “joinery” and others “cabinetry.” It’s about making furniture, cabinets for kitchens and bathrooms, and other fine woodwork. It’s a slow, meticulous process in which skilled people use tools that have changed little in centuries.

That is until someone crashed into this tradition-bound environment with a radical new approach to the business. As entrepreneur Alex Craster recounts in The CFO Centre’s book “Scale Up”, he’d already helped disrupt one industry – travel agencies, with the then-new idea of people booking their own travel online.

Craster talks of how he’d been pulled into managing his father’s failing joinery business. But he came to see opportunities for the firm to provide better services and meet new needs. He started using suppliers in Eastern Europe who were able to do highly skilled work at a fraction of the cost of UK suppliers. He also switched the focus of the firm, from making products into providing solutions to customer problems.

The result has been spectacular growth and even an invitation to supply services to Buckingham Palace.

Why is disruption like this such an important part of business success today? It has to do with two concepts – something that’s new, and something that’s better.

Grab the attention of people you want to attract

Let’s start with “new.”

One well-made kitchen cabinet is pretty much like any other well-made kitchen cabinet. In some ways, cabinetry is a commodity – it’s hard for a customer to tell one company’s offering from another’s. So it becomes a race to the bottom regarding prices.

To catch the attention of potential customers, Alex Craster’s company had to offer something that was new to the market – providing a service in which company representatives sat down with potential customers to get an idea of their problems. That might involve a hotel that wanted to attract a higher level of clientele. This approach made the company newsworthy, so it gained more word-of-mouth publicity.

The company’s approach made it more attractive to the traditional media. But it also had the potential to attract what is becoming a more important kind of attention, from social media including bloggers and Instagrammers.

This meant that just having a new approach put the company’s name in front of potential customers.

Holding the attention of prospective customers

Once you have the attention of the people you want to attract, how do you hold them? By offering something they will value – something that’s not just new, but demonstrably better than what they have now.

Alex Craster’s approach, which included a consultation and understanding customers’ business objectives, was a big step towards helping a hotel meet its goals. Those may have included being able to charge a higher room rate and improving the hotel’s all-important RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) metric.

So too, you need to be sure that your business idea offers real benefit to the people you want to serve.

Start by understanding their situation – some of the most pressing problems they are facing. That matters, because unless you can present them with a solution to one of their most pressing problems, or a step towards a solution, they’re not going to pay attention.

Then, instead of choosing a service or product to offer, you choose a problem to work on – such as increasing a hotel’s RevPAR.

Your approach must then revolve around solving that problem, with your product or service being part of that solution. If you’re offering something that is distinctly better than the solutions your prospective customers have on hand, you’ll have a much greater chance of success.

Planning is essential

All of this – finding something new and better – doesn’t just happen. You need to think it through. It takes time to match the assets you have – your skills, the skills of the people you work with, experience, and other factors – to the needs of potential customers.

A big part of that is the financial resources you have access to. With a good understanding of your financial picture, you can understand your financial strengths and limitations, so you know how much you can spend and still pay your rent and your staff.

Many growing companies find that the best way to make sure they have the financial resources they need is through a skilled finance professional – a Chief Financial Officer – who can help them understand their financial picture, and if necessary, get access to other financing that can help to seize on the opportunities to grow in a “disruptive” way.

For many companies, their best option is to have an experienced CFO available to them, on a long-term basis, but without the need to pay the compensation that a full-time professional would expect.  By utilizing a part-time CFO, they have the skill set they need available to them, but in a much more cost-effective manner.

To make sure you’re being disruptive within your market, planning is key. Failing to plan is like planning to fail. To learn more about how you can take your business to the next level, please download our e-book, “Business planning & strategy implementation,” which will walk you through the steps involved in business planning.

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