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Financial reporting | The CFO Centre Canada

Keys to Profitable Growth – Financial Reporting

Have you ever been so far off the grid – on a wilderness expedition, maybe – that your smartphone doesn’t know where you are? If you click on your “maps” app, your phone just shows you a blue dot, figuratively shrugs its shoulders and says, “You’re on the blue dot. But I have no clue what’s around you, where you’ve been or where you’re going.”

That uncomfortable “lost” feeling applies to more than just wilderness trekking. It can apply to your business – when you have no clear idea of which products or services are most profitable, how much you can afford to spend on new equipment, and whether you are on track to your goal (maybe, a comfortable retirement?).

So what’s the “maps app” for your business, so you can see how to get where you want to go? It’s your financial reporting system.

Financial Reporting – One Key to Profitable Growth

To be successful, you and your senior managers need regular access to accurate insights into your business. You need to be able to spot problems when they first emerge; measure and assess what’s working; identify and capitalize on opportunities, and recognize and manage threats.

When you know the reality of how your business is actually performing, you have a platform to confront the reality and can make decisions based on facts rather than speculation, bias and anecdotal evidence.

The importance of business reporting is twofold:

  1. To have visibility into the future (knowing what is likely to happen around the corner).
  2. To have retrospective visibility over past performance (that is, to analyze performance data and use it as a tool to course correct for the future).

A lot of businesses wait too long to introduce a proper business financial reporting structure. But without the right information collected in a timely way, effective analysis and robust planning is impossible.

Well-constructed business reports are the secret weapon for CEOs and business owners of ambitious growth companies. They will reveal how your company is performing and how far you are from reaching your goals.

Three key aspects to your financial GPS

While large companies have sophisticated financial systems tied to human resources metrics, production equipment, and inventory controls, you don’t need to get that elaborate – yet.

Start with mastery of three key financial statements:

  • The Balance Sheet
  • The Cash Flow Statement
  • The Profit and Loss Account

These reports can reveal such information as:

  • How effective your team is at controlling costs and deploying expenses to generate sales
  • Which of your products or services are the fastest growing and the most profitable
  • Your highest growth potential and most profitable customers
  • Where your break-even point is (how much sales the business needs to produce to cover all its costs)

Having all your business data at your fingertips means that you can spot gaps and weaknesses at a glance, have clear visibility over the future and course correct daily to ensure you are still en route to your destination.

Your company’s balance sheet: shows what your company owes and what it owes at a given time.  It reveals:

  • The net value of your company (which is useful if you plan to raise capital to finance future growth, sell your business, etc.)
  • Current and long-term debt obligations
  • Asset management (how effectively you’re managing your assets) and liquidity ratios

Lenders, investors and potential customers can use your balance sheet to assess your company’s creditworthiness, as well as its stability and liquidity – indicating its ability to fund growth without resorting to outside financing.

Profit and loss account: while the balance sheet is like a still image posted to Instagram, the P&L account is more like a video. It is the main way businesses determine how well they’re performing over time.

This is the main tool businesses use to gauge their profitability. It shows how well (or not) your company performed over a particular period of time in terms of revenue, expenses and earnings.

The Profit and Loss Account reveals the steps you can take to increase profitability (for example, whether to focus on more profitable product lines or services or to cut unnecessary expenses).

Investors will use your Profit and Loss Account to assess the ability of a Company to generate cash from operations, service current financing obligations and assess the level of risk involved in extending additional credit or venture capital to your company.

Cash flow statement: reveals how your company spends its cash (cash outflows) and where the money comes from (cash inflows) during a period of time. It is divided into three sections related to your company’s business operations: cash flow from operations, financing, and investing transactions.

Essentially, the Cash Flow Statement reveals whether or not your company has the cash to cover its daily activities, pay bills on time and maintain a positive cash flow. It also helps you to determine whether you’ll need additional working capital to buy inventory or to fund seasonal fluctuations.

Interpret your key financial statements using ratios

To interpret and understand the numbers contained in your financial statements, you should use financial ratios. The ratios are computed from numbers taken from the Profit and Loss Account and the Balance Sheet.

They measure performance in percentage terms rather than raw numbers. This means you can compare your company’s performance with other businesses in your industry, with your previous results and with your projections. _

Typically, owners, managers, and stakeholders look at four categories of ratios to analyze a company’s performance:

  • Liquidity ratios – show your company’s ability to meet its financial obligations
  • Profitability ratios – help evaluate your company’s ability to generate a return on its resources
  • Leverage ratios – show how your business is using debt, relative to capital
  • Efficiency ratios – reveal how effectively your company is managing assets.

Some ratios will be more applicable to certain industries and businesses than others. If you provide a service rather than sell products, then ratios like return on assets and inventory turnover are unlikely to be relevant to your company whereas the receivables revenue is critical to your business operations.

It’s best to choose the five most relevant ratios to your business and track those as part of your monthly management operating plan.

Conclusion

The benefits of having regular access to high-quality financial management reports are far-reaching. Good reports reveal the efficiency (or otherwise) of the constituent parts of the business and enable you to deal with potential threats and take advantage of opportunities to grow your business.

The compound effect of making regular, quick and high-quality decisions based on a strong set of data and reports cannot be overestimated.

7 keys to profitable growth | The CFO Centre Canada

7 Keys to Profitable Growth

Planning for growth is something every business owner will say they do, but not all business owners will do this effectively and with a focus that will generate profitable growth.

Many businesses plan for growth, but not profitable growth.  Some businesses focus on growing sales without a focus on margins while others build infrastructures to support sales and growth that never materialize.

Michael Porter said, “If your goal is anything but profitability – if it’s to be big, or to grow fast, or to become a technology leader – you’ll hit problems.”

A business must focus on profitable, scalable and sustainable activities if it is to grow. Profit and the generation of cash to re-invest in your business must be made a priority, as it is an essential part of the financial strategy and structure of a successful business.  Profit and a clear business plan will create a focus and the alignment of the organization, as well as attract investors and other sources of funds to fuel growth – all of which impacts the underlying business value of the business.

CFO Centre has identified 7 Keys to Profitable Growth:

  1. Define your business goals & objectives
    Produce a formal plan from which you can articulate a vision
  2. Critically review your business
    Identify competitive advantage, scalability & sustainability
  3. Establish a financial plan
    Identify milestones, KPIs & dashboards
  4. Create organizational alignment
    Nurture your culture, hire the right people & communicate the vision
  5. Identify the financial resources required 
  6. Support the business with systems & processes to optimize performance 
  7. Measure, review, evaluate & course correct
    Be proactive & prepared to be reactive

If you follow these 7 Keys and plan for profitable growth, you will ultimately:

  1. Improve and grow profits
  2. Maximize the scalability of your business
  3. Enhance management team and organizational structure
  4. Attract investors and other sources of funds
  5. Increase business value

To enhance the value of your business and grow successfully, follow the 7 Keys and Plan for Profitable Growth.

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.
Business Risks analysis | The CF Centre Canada

Understanding Business Risk – How to Avoid the Road to Ruin

Entrepreneurship means taking risks, such as launching new products, entering new markets, or using new processes. Because this involves uncertainty, there are always chances that things will go wrong.

Our experience at the CFO Centre has been that the most successful companies take the time to understand the downside of the risks they take, and then find a way to compensate for those downsides.

As the CFO Cente’s book “Scale Up” says, a lot of business owners spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about what might go wrong, but don’t have a formal risk management framework in place.  One of the most dangerous positions to be in is not knowing what might harm you. That’s why “Scale Up” suggests starting with a comprehensive risk analysis, to identify potential risks to your business.

This post talks about how you can understand the risks your company faces, and develop a way to manage those risks.

Why is business risk analysis important to you?

Business risk analysis is an essential part of the planning process. It reveals all the hidden hazards, which occupy the business owner’s mind on a subconscious level but which have not been carefully considered and documented on a conscious level.

Not understanding the risks your company faces can bring your company to its knees, as a 2011 report, ‘The Road to Ruin’ from Cass Business School revealed.

Alan Punter, a visiting Professor of Risk Finance at Cass Business School, said the result of a detailed analysis of 18 business crises during which enterprises failed revealed that directors were often unaware of the risks they faced.[1]

“Seven of the firms collapsed and three had to be rescued by the state while most of the rest suffered large losses and significant damage to their reputations,” he said.

“About 20 Chief Executives and Chairmen subsequently lost their jobs, and many Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) were removed or resigned in the aftermath of the crises. In almost all cases, the companies and/or board members personally were fined, and executives were given prison sentences in four cases.”

“One of our main goals was to identify whether these failures were random or had elements in common.”

“And our conclusion? To quote Paul Hopkin of Airmic, the Risk Management Association that commissioned the research: ‘This report makes clear that there is a pattern to the apparently disconnected circumstances that cause companies in completely different areas to fail. In simple terms, directors are too often blind to the risks they face.’”

A lot of business owners spend an unhealthy amount of their time worrying about what might go wrong but don’t have a formal risk management framework in place. It is dangerous not knowing what might go wrong.

What are the risks facing your business?

Business risks can be broken up into the following:

  • Strategic risks – risks that are associated with operating in a particular industry
  • Compliance risks – risks that are associated with the need to comply with laws and regulations.
  • Financial risks – risks that are associated with the financial structure of your business, the transactions your business makes, and the financial systems you have in place
  • Operational risks – risks that are associated with your business’ operational and administrative procedures.
  • Market/Environmental risks – external risks that a company has little control over such as major storms or natural disasters, the global financial crisis, changes in government legislation or policies.[2]

The ‘shoot, fire, aim’ approach favored by many entrepreneurs is great for making things happen quickly but often jeopardizes the long-term stability of the business.

What is needed is balance.

Once the business understands the risks, it means that it can move forward decisively and confidently. It’s hard to do this when there is a cloud of confusion hanging over the business.

Where to start?

You need to assess your business and identify potential risks. Once you understand the extent of possible risks, you will be able to develop cost-effective and realistic strategies for dealing with them. Consider your critical business activities, including your staff, key services and resources, and the things that could affect them (for example, illness, natural disaster, power failures, etc.). Doing this assessment will help you to work out which aspects of your business could not operate without.

Identify the risks

Look at your business plan and determine what you cannot do without and what type of incidents could have an adverse impact on those areas. Ask yourself whether the risks are internal or external. When, how, why and where are risks likely to occur in your business? Who might be affected or involved if an accident occurs?

Assess your processes

Evaluate your work processes (use inspections, checklists, and flow charts). Identify each step in your processes and think about the associated risks. What would stop each step from happening? How would that affect the rest of the process?

Analyzing the level of risk

Once you’ve identified risks relating to your business, you’ll need to analyze their likelihood and consequences, and then come up with options for managing them.  You need to separate small risks that may be acceptable from significant risks that must be managed immediately.

You need to consider:

  • How important each activity is to your business
  • The amount of control you have over the risk
  • Potential losses to your business
  • The benefits or opportunities presented by the risk

Conclusion

By managing the company’s risk profile and the risk profiles of the shareholders the whole business can be brought into alignment and can operate as a unit rather than as a set of individual parts.

This is actually one of the most critical roles in any business and your part-time CFO will support and guide you through the process.

At the CFO Centre, our CFOs have an intimate understanding of every conceivable risk that growing businesses face. This means that we can help you build a much stronger business by knowing how to navigate through the growth stages of the business cycle confident that you are equipped to meet the challenges as they present themselves.

It is never possible to eliminate all risks in a business, but it is possible to create a framework and implement systems which lower your exposure to risk. That, in turn, allows you to focus primarily on growing your business.

Knowing that you have a framework in place to mitigate risk means that you can free up time and mental energy.

Lower your risk today

Let one of The CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs help you with business risk analysis. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs just click here.

 

 

[1]The Road to Ruin’, Punter, Alan, Financial Director, www.financialdirector.co.uk, Aug 18, 2011

[2] Source: http://toolkit.smallbiz.nsw.gov.au

 

 

 

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 - Cashflow

How your business can fly away from cash problems

Do you ever feel that growing your business is like being a bird in a cage? Even if it’s a big cage, it’s still got its limits. For your business, that “cage” can be a lack of cash needed to let your business fly as high as it can.

It shows up when you’re hit with a lack of cash to hire new people, to move to larger premises, or to invest in R&D to upgrade your products. It’s your accountant warning that you’re short on money to make payroll or pay the rent, or your bank asking you to replenish your accounts.

Sometimes, cash flow issues intrude if business is slow, and your fixed payments such as rent and utilities eat up too much of the small amount of revenue that comes in.

But cash can also be a problem if your wildest dreams come true and you have too successful a business. If you need to hire staff, buy inputs like parts and raw materials, and buy and install equipment, that means a lot of cash going out if you’re to meet your customers’ needs (see our post on “Hypergrowth” for more on that).

Even if your customers pay right away, you’re still left holding your financial breath until that money’s in your bank. And you may need to hold your breath a lot longer if your customers take 30, 60 or even more days to pay.

Success-induced cash flow problems are particularly problematic for scale-up companies, because their cash shortages are often much larger than those of startups. Smaller companies can dig into their home equity, a personal line of credit or friends and family. But scale-ups’ cash demands are often too big for those startup-type solutions.

It’s like learning to swim – in the shallow end of the pool you can always put your feet on the bottom. But at the deep end, that’s not an option.

Learning how to deal with those deeper waters starts by understanding how your company can get into cash flow problems in the first place.

What causes cash flow problems?

According to the CFO Centre’s e-book “Cash Flow,” the main causes of cash flow issues are:

Slow-paying customers: Customers may be facing their own cash flow problems and may be inclined to drag their heels on paying your company. There’s often a gap between the time you pay for the inputs to your product – including paying your staff – and when your customers pay you. You may be reluctant to press for payment, partly because you don’t want to alienate or lose a customer, but some customers will take advantage of that.

High fixed costs: You may be paying too much in rent or payroll, because in the optimism of entrepreneurship, you expect to need that capacity sooner rather than later. But your “sooner” may be taking its time arriving. When in growth mode, you’re likely paying more for inputs and fixed costs than you’re bringing in as revenue, so all costs need to be monitored regularly to ensure that you’re not spending too much.

Your prices are too low: You may be trying to win customers, particularly in a market where prices are easily comparable, but if you’re not covering your costs or giving yourself a healthy margin, you risk running out of cash. Customers who choose only based on prices will likely jump to a competitor if you increase what you’re charging.  Understanding your costs and developing your pricing model accordingly is critical.

Other common reasons include low sales volume, too-generous payment terms, bad debts and too much old inventory.

How to get the help you need to avoid cash flow problems

Most entrepreneurs would rather focus on growing the business than watching over the finances. That’s even more so as the business gets bigger, and the cash flow picture becomes more complex.

This means that growing companies can benefit from specialized financial expertise. Sometimes, that expertise is available within the company, but more often, it’s necessary to look outside.

A professional with financial expertise can help you recognize warning signs you may have missed as you focused on growing your business. This person can then help you find ways to deal with those issues, such as pressing customers for faster payment. There may also be opportunities for other ways to deal with your financial crunch such as vendor financing or R&D tax credits, that you may not have fully explored.

For many companies, that means a need for the skills of a Chief Financial Officer, but maybe without the price tag of a full-time CFO’s salary. A part-time CFO may be the answer – someone who is fully part of your leadership team, but on a basis that may range from a few days a month to a few days a week.

The CFO Centre’s “Cash Flow” book provides some suggestions on how to deal with possible cash flow problems, as well as describing your options as regards a part-time CFO.

Scale Up with The CFO Centre

Is the problem your company solves BIG enough?

If you have ambitions to grow your small company into a large one, you need to make sure it has room to grow.

To see how that works, consider that humble box of baking soda in your refrigerator. Baking soda was originally developed for, well, baking. It solved a baker’s problem – the difficulty of getting baked goods to rise. But then, people discovered other problems the product solved – diaper rash, kitchen fires, grease stains … and refrigerator odors.

Manufacturers such as Arm & Hammer found demand for their product that was quite unrelated to their company’s original idea.

But what Arm & Hammer found out indirectly about solving wider and bigger problems, you need to do intentionally. How do you do that? Here’s a three-step process.

1. What problem(s) are you solving now?

You may have started your business to provide a specific product (such as baking soda) or service. But your customers may look at the situation quite differently. They’re looking to buy a solution to a problem they’re facing, like diaper rash or a carpet stain. Sometimes, it’s more than one problem – a box of baking soda helps bake cookies and helps clean the kitchen counter.

So, you need to get a clear idea of what problems you’re solving for your customers now. To do this, consult with your customers directly, get input from your sales team, and see what people are saying about you on social media.

Then ask yourself: are the problems we’re solving now the problems that will help us continue to grow? Should we be solving different, maybe bigger, problems?

2. Find the right bigger problems to solve

The world is full of bigger problems – climate change, overpopulation, civil unrest, and many more. But how do you find the right bigger problems? Some ideas that may guide your quest:

Do people with money feel this problem? If you’re running a business, you need to earn revenue – so the problems you solve must involve people who have the money to pay you. And, the problems must be pressing – those ideal customers must actually feel the pain and urgency enough to want to pay you to solve those problems for them

Does this problem give meaning and urgency to your life? As well as pressing on your customers, the problems you’re solving must motivate you. They have to help you get going in the morning and stay at it all day. Only then will you be able to motivate others on your team, even those who don’t interact directly with customers, to help solve those problems too.

Does this problem have staying power? You need a problem that will continue – and better yet, continue to grow. Only then will you have the basis for a business that has sustainability.

Now, let’s consider how you can bake that sustainability into your business.

3. Develop a solution that’s disruptive

If your answer to the problem of refrigerator odors is another box of baking soda, you may need to re-think your approach. You’ll be struggling against a well-entrenched competitor.

Instead, the solution you offer must be disruptive – in other words, it must be unusual and offer new solutions to existing problems. One reason is that if it’s a big enough problem, it won’t be solvable by current thinking, or someone would have solved it already. And, you need to seize attention, and offer an advantage compelling enough so that potential customers will say, “I want some of that.”

Our work at the CFO Centre is something like that. We saw a problem – entrepreneurs whose dreams crash to earth because they don’t have the financial lift they need under their wings. And we saw that many companies can’t afford a full-time experienced CFO (that cash problem again), and what’s more, they don’t need one.

What many (we like to think all) growing companies can use is ongoing access to a CFO’s ability to clear away the financial stumbling blocks, but without a full-time CFO’s cost. So was born our “fractional” CFO – a permanent, but part-time, financial advisor.

That’s our disruptive solution.

One thing we’ve found out is the importance of having the cash you need to build a way to solve the “big problem” you’ve decided to focus on. Without cash, it’s like you’re trying to walk when you need to fly. To learn more about the importance of cash flow, the reasons for it (such as slow-paying customers, high fixed costs), and some steps you can take to resolve them, download our free e-book, simply titled “Cashflow.”

CFO Centre Blog - The F Word

If You Want To Succeed, You Need To Embrace The ‘F’ Word

What do Sir James Dyson, the Mercedes F1 team, Pixar, Google and the airline industry have in common?

They’re hugely successful, yes, but the thing that links them is they never shy away from the ‘F’ word—Failure. Instead, they face and learn from their mistakes, errors, and mishaps. So says Matthew Syed, award-winning Times journalist and best-selling author of ‘Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance’ (John Murray).

“We have an allergic attitude to failure,” he says. “We try to avoid it, cover it up and airbrush it out of our lives.

“For centuries, errors of all kinds have been considered embarrassing, morally egregious, almost dirty.

“This conception still lingers today. It is why … doctors reframe mistakes, why politicians resist running rigorous tests on their policies, and why blame and scapegoating are so endemic.”

This notion of failure needs to change, he writes. “We have to conceptualize it not as dirty and embarrassing, but as bracing and educative.”

That’s because success in business (as well as in sport and in our personal lives) can only happen when mistakes are confronted and learned from and there’s a climate in which it’s safe to fail.

It’s what the airline industry has done so successfully, he says. Instead of concealing failure, the aviation industry has a system where failure is inherently valuable and data-rich, says Syed.

In fact, his ‘Black box thinking’ refers to the black box data recorders that all aircraft must carry to provide information in case of accidents. One box records instructions that are sent to all onboard electronic systems and the other records the voices in the cockpit.

“Mistakes are not stigmatized, but regarded as learning opportunities,” he says. After a crash, an independent team investigates.

“The interested parties are given every reason to cooperate since the evidence compiled by the [independent] accident investigation branch is inadmissible in court proceedings. This increases the likelihood of full disclosure.”

What’s more, after an investigation into an accident is completed, the report is made available for everyone.

“Every pilot in the world has free access to the data,” writes Syed. “This enables everyone to learn from the mistake, rather than just a single crew, or a single airline, or a single nation.”

Syed gives the example of United Airlines Flight 173 which took off from JFK International airport in New York on December 28, 1978, bound for Portland Oregon.

Just before the airplane went to land, the flight crew became convinced the landing gear hadn’t locked into place. They then spent so long trying to fix the problem that they ran out of fuel and had to crash-land into a residential area, killing eight people onboard.

An investigation discovered that the flight engineer hadn’t been assertive enough in telling the Captain the fuel was running low. The Captain meantime was obsessed with trying to fix the landing gear problem and avoid giving passengers a bumpy landing.

As it turned out there had not been a problem with the landing gear in the first place.

Afterwards, new protocols were put in place and training methods were revised. As a result, nothing quite as bad has happened again.

So much so that flying on airplanes is now safer than any other form of travel because the industry investigates and learns from its mistakes.

“Openness and learning rather than blaming is the instinctive response – and system safety has been the greatest beneficiary,” Syed told Director magazine.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaners

Sir James, the designer, inventor, and entrepreneur, is another committed to learning from failure.

He made 5,127 prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner before he got it right. This practice has obviously paid off because Sir James is now worth more than £3 billion.

“Creative breakthroughs always begin with multiple failures,” says Sir James. “…True invention lies in the understanding and overcoming of these failures, which we must learn to embrace.”

Without them, innovations won’t happen, he says. “Failures feed the imagination. You cannot have the one without the other.”

Great inventors always develop their insights not from an appraisal of how good everything is, but from what is going wrong, Sayed wrote in the Daily Mail.

Using Failure To Grow Your Business

Obviously, failure is only useful if it’s acted upon. “You can build motivation by breaking down the idea that we can all be perfect on the one hand, and by building up the idea that we can get better with good feedback and practice on the other,” says Syed.

Some of the world’s most innovative organizations like Pixar, the Mercedes F1 Team, and Google “interrogate errors as part of their strategy for future success.”

Take Google’s decision to test which shade of blue in its advertising links in Gmail and Google search worked best, for example.

Rather than ask its designers to choose the shade of blue for those links, Google decided to run tests known as ‘1% experiments in which 1% of users were shown one blue and another in which 1% of users were shown another blue. Then Google went further and ran 40 other experiments showing all the shades of blue.

It paid off: Google found the perfect shade of blue (the one that users were more likely to click on) and made an extra $200 million a year in revenue.

Why Don’t Companies Embrace Failure?

One of the biggest problems in business is the collective attitude we have to failure, says Syed.

“We love to think of ourselves as smart people, so we find mistakes, failure and suboptimal outcomes challenging to our egos,” Syed said in an interview with Director magazine. “But the reality is, when we’re involved in complex areas of human endeavor—and business is very complex—our ideas and actions not being perfect is an inevitability.

“If we’re threatened by our mistakes, and become prickly when people mention them, we don’t learn from them. We need to eradicate the idea that smart people don’t make mistakes.”

To really be successful, businesses need to encourage a company-wide failure-embracing culture which in turn will create a “process of dynamic change and adaptation”.

“Success happens through a willingness to engage with, and change as a result of, our failings. Get that right and everything else falls into place,” he says.

If you would like to download the CFO Centre’s report on Risk you can do so here

You can also arrange a complimentary 1:1 Finance Breakthrough Session with one of Canada’s top CFO here

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