Thriving in the New World requires a CFO to expand their Guardian role for the organization. The CFO must see themselves driving the organization’s efforts to harness increasing levels of complexity while embedding behaviours and systems to defend against existing and emerging threats to business continuity.
Organizations of all sizes have relied on their financial leaders to develop internal control systems and financial compliance with taxation and regulatory bodies. The business owner and key stakeholders will better navigate the future by ensuring their financial leader is accountable for maximising the organization’s overall information integrity and for broadening the compliance framework.
Successfully achieving this broader mandate will require the CFO to elevate their collaboration and partnership with other functional leaders. Success will also depend on how intensely the leadership team commits to sharpening their ability to convert information into insight. There are two initiatives your CFO can pursue to create greater visibility of information related opportunities and potential compliance challenges.
Harnessing Digital Transformation
The recent pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation for every business. Over the past year, it has become clear that companies who want to win must consistently adopt emerging technologies to exploit the opportunities offered by digitization. Businesses who select the right solutions will convert the promise of richer information into higher revenue and lower costs.
It is likely your business is headed towards larger technology investment. Business leaders must, of course, rely on their technology advisors and their market oriented leadership to drive digital transformation; however, the contribution of the CFO should not be overlooked. Owners and CEOs should seek to pair their technology advisor with their financial advisor to ensure the technology selection process is sufficiently thorough and holistic.
Decision makers often desire greater amounts of information; however, there is no guarantee it leads to better decisions. For most organizations, their finance teams have the most experience in digesting large amounts of information and structuring it to make recommendations. Fostering collaboration between finance staff and your digital marketing leaders will promote more streamlined, more accurate, more actionable information.
Creating a Compliance Culture
The reality is that discussions regarding “compliance” are low on the excitement list for most individuals, and almost certainly not the driving force for most CEO’s or owner operators. For finance and operations teams, compliance may not be their primary passion; however, their functional success links directly to processes that ensure compliance requirements are visible and achieved. The challenge for compliance in a post pandemic world has grown. Workers remotely accessing business systems and confidential data puts greater pressure on protecting customer information and maintaining adherence to internal practices.
It is no surprise that the first step to creating a compliance culture begins with the leadership team. For many business the choice to task the CFO to take on compliance culture responsibilities will reinforce to employees the organization’s commitment to a disciplined overall compliance framework. Your CFO should bring a compliance mindset to the organization. Equally importantly, they should bring proven methods to establish compliance systems.
Once the initial building blocks of leadership commitment and senior level accountability are established, the CFO can work with their colleagues to put in place three additional elements that have proven effective in financial compliance. These elements are Visibility, Review and Corrective Action. These three elements have been essential for every finance leader to demonstrate a reliable compliance framework to tax authorities, regulatory bodies, and financial stakeholders.
In this series of Thriving in the New World, The CFO Centre explores what exactly it means to be an operator in the “new world” and essential elements that allow your business to thrive.
Most owner-operated businesses would agree that increased cash and more access to capital would help them exceed their business objectives. Recent societal and economic realities have strained or even exhausted cash resources for many companies. Even those companies enjoying unprecedented growth are scrambling to fund unexpected expansion. The essential building block for liquidity has always been Operational Excellence, defined as consistent and reliable execution of each business’ unique processes to acquire and satisfy customers.
High performing operations processes have always been the foundation for generating cash from within the business. Equally important for those business owners seeking to thrive in a post Covid world is the critical need to demonstrate operational excellence to third party financing sources. Seeking to expand your credit line with your bank or pursuing additional investors will require the business owner to present a clear and compelling story for how the company will produce profits, cash and sufficient return on capital.
The traditional role for a CFO in Operational Excellence is to provide accurate financial information and act as leading voice in cost reduction. Creating a truly reliable foundation for generating cash and profits; often requires financial leaders to contribute more than they have ever before. The experience, attributes and mindset of many CFO’s positions them to act as a catalyst for delivering cash and profit maximization across the full range of business processes.
Fix the Finance Foundation
The processes and practices of the finance function must be viewed as rock solid by the owner and the rest of the organization to create a path for participation or preferably leadership of broader operational improvement initiatives.
There are three key functional outcomes that must be in place to give the finance team the credibility to extend its involvement to other operational processes. Without these deliverables in place, the organization’s ability to undertake deeper process review will be severely impaired.
The first base level capability is timely, accurate and useful financial reporting. If the leaders of the company are not receiving this level of financial reporting, then it is unlikely that the finance leader has earned the right to apply their team’s expertise to general operating processes.
The second must have competency from the finance team is an understanding of the cost drivers for the business. The understanding of costs does not have to be perfect; however, there must be a methodology in place to capture and analyze the complete range of items that form the cost of products or services
The third requirement for finance team effectiveness is to have a solid grasp of the company strategies that will drive future growth and success. If your finance staff are seen just as number crunchers it will be difficult for them to contribute to operational initiatives. The first installment of our CFO contribution series suggests a practical approach to engage your finance leader in developing future proofing strategies.
Own Cash Flow
The responsibility of generating positive cash flow clearly belongs to the CEO and the entire organization; however, expanding the mindset of your financial leader to thinking and acting as the owner of cash flow can be a powerful tool. Finance and accounting staff have historically only been tasked with producing cash flow forecasts based on inputs from other leaders.
We suggest making a clear organization signal showing reliance on the finance team to go beyond analyzing cash inputs and outputs. The new expectation should include concrete actions aimed at increasing the amount or timing of cash inputs while reducing the amount or timing of cash outputs. One example of a high impact cash inflow recommendation is to convert the finance team’s experience with both external and internal obstacles to timely collection of receivables into operational practices that eliminate these obstacles in advance.
Refine and Revolutionize Business Processes
Each organization varies in complexity of business processes, capabilities of process analysis, and often very different levels of CEO interest or prioritization of process improvement initiatives. Given the nature of many small to medium-sized organizations, there can often be aptitude and attitude gaps leading to under prioritizing detailed data-driven process review work.
Even a small finance team can become the internal champions for generating improved results achieved through documenting and enhancing your most critical processes. Elevating the CFO to, at minimum, a shared level of ownership with the firm’s operational leaders will apply complementary expertise to process review efforts. Converting process improvements into additional cash and profit can often involve just a few additional questions that may be missed by other functional areas.
Create Compelling Capital Acquisition Content
There is a high probability that pursuing operational excellence will lead to capturing more cash from optimized processes and deliver positive returns in the short term.
The longer-term benefit of intense CFO involvement in the operational aspects of the company is the ability to work with the owner to put a more convincing investment case forward to potential sources of debt or equity financing. Revenue growth is understandably the primary focal point for future investment; however, the business case is significantly strengthened by a tangible action plan showcasing gross margin enhancement, profit improvement and positive cash generation.
Reviewing, examining and revising processes has always been part of running a successful enterprise. Although most companies have made improvements over the life of their business; there is often a substantial opportunity to further optimize the organization’s capability to convert every dollar of revenue into more profit and more cash. One of the positive byproducts of the turmoil related to the pandemic is that business owners, management and employees are more aware and likely more open to the need for change than ever before. The time is right for businesses to count on their CFO to bring a thorough, disciplined methodology to deliver operational excellence and improved financial results. Uncover more.
In the introduction to our CFO Contribution Series, Thriving In the New World Strategist, we suggested that most business owners may not be well served by high-level, third party driven, divergent strategic exercises. Certainly, there is significant value in undertaking far reaching, blue sky thinking. Most small to medium size organizations will be better served by incorporating their own foresight into targeted, most probable future scenarios developed by highly engaged participants directly linked to the success of the business.
There can be no doubt the Covid 19 pandemic has led to unprecedented change for most businesses. Revenue levels have plunged for some firms while others are experiencing unexpected increases in new customers and unforecasted demand levels. Supply Chains have been disrupted. Optimizing employee productivity and satisfaction have become more art than science. Short-term cash availability and long term capital requirements are highly uncertain. Even the most confident experts are reluctant to make a call on the economic climate we are likely to experience a year from now or even six months from now.
Success in this uncharted New World requires business owners to make effective decisions to address today’s challenges and to establish a strong market position in an uncertain future. We call this Future Proofing your business. The path forward will be unique for every enterprise. For most businesses, the contribution of an integrated senior financial leader can be a major factor in making the best decisions for steering the business towards a successful future.
Owner operators will particularly benefit by injecting their full time or part time CFO into idea
generation and implementation planning to future proof their business using the following four-step process.
Developing Most Probable Future Scenarios
The insight of the CEO along with sales and market-oriented management will understandably be
essential to develop and select three or four most likely market scenarios. Important dimensions for assessing your business’ future would include revenue outlook, new revenue sources, changes in access to customers or preferences of customers, competitive forces, regulatory factors and assessment of staff effectiveness. Identifying these factors specific to your business and your industry should be considered in conjunction with the team’s projections of potential future operating environments.
Involving a holistic professional with the ability to stretch the team’s future thinking to include the full spectrum of potential obstacles often leads to more robust, more complete future scenarios. Team members should expect the organization’s financial leader to embrace the uncertainties inherent in guessing at potential futures while also expecting them to act as a catalyst to describe the leading scenarios with sufficient clarity to facilitate resiliency testing and implementation planning.
Leveraging Emerging Technology
The pace of change over the past five to ten years combined with the recent accelerated societal and economic changes linked to the pandemic forces all businesses to adapt and respond quicker and more intensively than ever before. Adapting and responding effectively requires timely and appropriate application of emerging technology solutions to uncover new connections to customers and to unlock methods to streamline and enhance business processes.
A few of the more pervasive and perhaps highest potential technology trends destined to shape the future are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain Technology and Internet of Things. Finance leaders bring essential analytical skills, as well as opportunity and risk assessment expertise. These attributes will help the business select the most advantageous solutions and deploy these applications to deliver favourable returns.
Stress Testing Scenarios and Strategies
Once the business has collaboratively generated their high probability future scenarios and articulated corresponding strategies to maximize results; a critical need emerges for disciplined evaluation to ensure the selected paths forward can stand up to expected obstacles and deviations.
The CFO’s involvement in scenario testing is likely to be most accepted and welcomed by the business owner and the future proofing team. A New World CFO is one that passionately embraces uncertainties and optimism while maintaining their proven ability to rigorously apply a check and balance approach to the team’s chosen future scenarios and strategies.
Commitment to Highest Impact Initiatives
The hardest decision for many organizations undertaking future proofing activities during today’s tumultuous environment will be to commit the necessary financial and human resources to those chosen few initiatives expected to best position the business over the next six months to five years.
Creating the internal and external confidence to act now often hinges on the development of concise, compelling business cases to define the initiative, its costs and expected profits. The involvement of your financial leader in the entire future proofing process will significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of these strategic business cases. In situations where the organization is seeking external financing or participation from partnering organizations; the voice of an informed, engaged, credible CFO will be a significant factor in securing the desired external support.
Business owners and their management teams have the responsibility to navigate the firm through today’s urgent challenges and opportunities. They also bear the greater responsibility to establish direction and take action to prepare the organization to succeed for many years ahead. A New World CFO welcomes this responsibility and possesses the knowledge and dedication needed to deliver results today and in the future. Discover more.
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:
To have visibility into the future (knowing what is likely to happen around the corner).
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 alonger-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
Many 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Implement. The rest is up to you and your team. Delegate tasks, outsource, do it yourself – but be sure to stay with your timeline.
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.
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.
Venture Capitalists, angel investors, bankers and private-equity managers may not agree on much, but there is one idea they share. They’d rather put their money behind a stellar management team even if it has a just-okay idea than put it into a brilliant idea implemented by a ho-hum management team.
If your company is seeking to break out of startup mode and into a period of aggressive growth, how do you go about building that stellar management team? You may need people with skill-sets, experience, and connections that are a few levels above those of the people who have helped you get this far.
It’s sort of like when you graduated from university and its pajamas-friendly environment and had to buy your first real ‘work’ outfit to start your “grown-up” wardrobe. What should be the first piece to add to your ‘collection’ of your management team that will take your company to the next level?
A CFO is the key to unlocking your future
You might think it’s best to start by recruiting top-level talent in Operations, Sales or R&D. And those functions are vital. But the foundation to it all is finance. Remember that “money makes the world go ’round.”
Looked at another way, a lack of money can stop your world from turning. What signs could exist to indicate that money issues might hold you back?
Your bank keeps calling to say that you’re close to violating your covenants on existing credit
Your head of Accounting shows up at your door a few too many times asking where the cash to cover payroll is
You don’t have a clear idea of what financial resources you have available in the near or long term, to fund working capital or investments
The account manager you’ve worked with for years gets transferred – and you find you have nobody at your bank to advocate for you
If you have the money issue solved, you’re free to implement your growth ideas – research new products, expand into new markets, offer new products to existing customers – confident that you have the financing to allow those ideas to happen. But how do you meet your financial needs in a way that works for your still-growing company?
3 ways to get the CFO you need
There are several ways to sweeten a cup of coffee – sugar, honey or a vast array of artificial and “natural” sweeteners. In the same way, there’s more than one way to get the financial expertise you need.
Promote from within: You can take someone who knows your financial picture – your head of Accounting, say – and move this person into the CFO role. You need to be sure that the person has the right skills and connections, because what makes a good CFO is different from what makes a good Controller. And, you need to back-fill the role that this person was promoted from.
Hire a CFO from outside: The second way involves hiring a full-time CFO from outside your organization. This person will come with the skills and connections you need, but at a cost – literally. The amount you must pay to attract top talent can throttle your company’s cash flow, exactly the problem you want to solve. And, top CFO talent may well be wasted on a midsize company. After the setting-up process is complete, your new CFO may get bored and start taking calls and meetings with search consultants.
Hire a part-time CFO: This solution (which is one that The CFO Centre provides) can give you the best of both worlds. You get an experienced CFO, often with a track record in your industry, and you don’t need to pay anything like the salary and benefits package expected by a full-time employee. Many experienced CFOs like having a part-time position – it gives them the flexibility and work-life balance they want, while still being able to get the satisfaction of helping great businesses succeed.
Our experience at The CFO Centre is that any company can benefit from someone in the CFO role, whether it is part-time or full-time. How that role is provided depends on the circumstances.
Feel free to contact us to see what we can contribute towards your thoughts regarding your company’s future.
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.
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.
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.
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.”