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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: https://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 - Disruptive Ideas

Is your business idea disruptive enough?

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

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

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

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

Disrupt your way to a better customer experience

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

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

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

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

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

Grab the attention of people you want to attract

Let’s start with “new.”

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

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

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

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

Holding the attention of prospective customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning is essential

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Why Entrepreneurs’ Dream of Hypergrowth Fast Becomes A Nightmare

Rapid growth is the stuff most entrepreneurs dream about as they take their fledgling company through the early years but when it happens, it can quickly become the stuff of nightmares.

The bubbles in the celebratory champagne—“Here’s to our success!”—barely have time to go flat before the problems arise across the high-impact growth or Scale Up business.

Suddenly owners are beset by problems involving the people they’ve hired or not hired, their cashflow chokes, and processes that once worked so smoothly groan to a halt. Customers then leave snide reviews because products or services aren’t delivered on time, and key suppliers get angry at delayed payments. Bankers who were once so keen for business begin to crank up the pressure as overdrafts or loans get close to the ‘red zone’.

No wonder then that so many business owners spend hours every night staring into the darkness wondering what on earth happened to their once easy-to-manage business.

The owners of high impact growth or Scaled Up businesses are often the loneliest, most isolated and overworked individuals. While start-up owners get an avalanche of government help and assistance, their Scaled Up counterparts get very little attention or assistance.

The CFO Centre’s Chairman Colin Mills says he’s seen first-hand what pressure does to business owners.

“I’ve sat in sales meetings with entrepreneurs who had literally been brought to tears by stress and frustration and the feeling that it’s all too much.”

It’s for this reason that Colin has written Scale Up: How to Take Your Business to the Next Level Without Losing Control and Running Out of Cash.

It’s aimed at the owners of companies facing or already experiencing the problems of scaling their businesses to ensure they minimize the problems and achieve growth in a controlled, sustained way.

“Our experience suggests that scale-up issues start to bite at about £1M/$1M Sales Revenue or a minimum of 10 employees,” he explains.

“By the time a business reaches £50M/$50M Sales Revenue or 250 employees (larger firms tend to have fewer employees per £/$ of Sales Revenue) they can most often be considered a “scaler”: they are past the main dangers of scaleup.”

In his book, Colin explains why scaling a business can be so problematic. The business owner has to deal with one or even all of the following:

  • People challenges
  • Sales and marketing challenges
  • Operational challenges
  • Administrative challenges
  • Financial challenges

Colin explains, “Businesses run the gauntlet of increasingly severe challenges, mostly because they are growing but don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support their expanded operations.

“While on paper, they may have the revenue, the manufacturing base or customer reach of a substantial business, the culture, the controls, the processes, the personnel and the leadership remain those of a much smaller business that they were a short time before.

“Worse, they haven’t yet accumulated the resources to build and maintain that infrastructure.”

This creates a hazardous situation for the business, he says.

“The biggest danger in this period is that the business will either outrun itself or get stuck, like a deer in headlights. Outrun, as the company spirals out of control and its cash reserves dwindle trying to meet the expanded demands of the business.

“Or stuck, as the entrepreneur tries to cope with everything at once, frustrated that the problems he could happily once deal with—back when the business was smaller—are not being dealt with by the people he is employing, often at substantial cost.”

Overcoming such problems or avoiding them is only possible if you revise your business model.

“You need to consider your whole business model, because if you have a terrible business model, then the last thing you want to do is to start scaling it. If you do that, then all the small problems that make your life a nightmare now will become major headaches.

“If your business model isn’t great, however, it doesn’t mean that all is lost: there’s a lot you can do to retrofit, design and redesign a business.”

Besides explaining the challenges scaling businesses face, Colin also provides the methods you need to use to overcome them—the same methods that the CFOs from the CFO Centre offers its clients.

They’re also the methods the CFO Centre has used in its own scaling up process, says Colin.

The CFO Centre is a scaleup that has been growing at over 30% for the last three years with close on 400 CFOs but Colin admits he keeps a keen focus on the business, the business model, and the key performance indicators.

“It might be a scaleup now, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not going to career out of control. I have to keep my eyes on the business, re-evaluate the business model, watch the indicators.”

Along with practical advice that you can use immediately, the book features an array of case studies in which business owners describe how they overcame the challenges of scaling their businesses.

So, if your business is on the verge of or already experiencing the ‘difficult teenage’ phase and you’re wondering how to overcome the nightmare challenges you’re facing, this book is for you.

It’s available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle ebook here.

Become a world class competitor

Become a world class leader with a strategic plan

By Chris Carl
Regional Director at The CFO Centre

A part-time CFO is to an SME what a doctor, a physical trainer, and a world-class coach is to a superstar athlete.  The superstar athlete will always be good – but they will only be great if they are healthy (the doctor makes sure of that), they are in great physical shape (the trainer takes care of that) and that they can compete at a world-class level (the world-class coach takes care of that).  In a business setting, the CFO Centre refers to these same three levels of conditioning as Business Support (being healthy), Operational Skills (getting in great physical shape), and Strategic Planning (competing at a world class level). 

The highly experienced and successful part-time CFOs from The CFO Centre can help make a company flourish in every respect.  From increased profitability, to growth through financing or mergers and acquisitions, to increased happiness in the C-suite and all employees, a part-time CFO can literally help perform miracles.  But, these results can only be achieved through sound business practices and a great strategic plan.  A successful experienced CFO, that costs only a fraction of a full-time CFO, can make all of these happen. 

This article (part 4 of 4) discusses developing and implementing a Strategic Plan to make your company able to compete in any market.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Strategic Planning

In our final comparison to becoming a world-class athlete, regardless of how strong an athlete you may be, you will never compete at a world-champion level without a great coach. That coach helps you develop your plan to get to the top of the podium – from taking stock of where you stand today, to figuring out what actions might hurt you if not attended to, to laying out a timetable to achieve each part of your overall goal. That coach ensures that you have all of the right resources around you that you will need to win that championship, he/she does a lot more than sit on the sidelines and clap when you perform well.

In business terms, to be able to achieve all of your business goals, (and maybe some you thought were beyond your wildest dreams) you need a Strategic Plan.  Don’t confuse this with a wish list.  A Strategic Plan involves setting very high goals but it also requires taking stock of your current situation, identifying the risks you need to overcome to achieve your goals, a step-by-step path and resources required to get you there, and a definitive timetable for each step to make sure it all happens.  Once in place, it also requires execution.

At The CFO Centre, we believe the highest value we can bring to any client is to help them develop, and execute a “Strategic Plan” that takes the company well beyond what the CEO even thought possible.  By following the path of the four key elements, a part-time CFO will bring financial abundance to the company.  At the CFO Centre, we define these 4 key elements as:

Strategic Planning can sound lofty and somewhat irrelevant to a company that is in the trenches every day just fighting to survive.  But it is exactly what the company needs to get them out of the trenches and on to a much better playing field. A Strategic Plan is like a roadmap and without one, the company will wander aimlessly without direction. And when communicated properly, it helps great alignment and purpose within an organization.

For example, one company I worked with as an investor had world-class technology to help other companies optimize cleanliness and environmental compliance in a manufacturing setting.  The small management team was very strong and had great breadth between technical, marketing and financial experience and skill.  And while they knew they had a world-class technology, they could not generate the marketing and sales dollars sufficient for them to access and educate the larger customers they desired.  By selling to smaller customers, their unit sizes were smaller and they had to keep prices (and therefore margins) low just to be able to make the sale.  The result:  they were losing money or barely breaking even month after month and year after year.

When I met them through a fellow investor, I found a team that was capable, very focused on getting the job done, and who really knew exactly what they wanted in the long term.  BUT, they were stuck in a low margin rut and couldn’t find a way out.  So I suggested we take a few more hours out of their life for a few weeks and develop a Strategic Plan.

This plan had to be real, but it also had to lay out a path for them to get to point that they could be selling this amazing equipment to the large customers who needed it most.  We sat down and recorded all of the possible goals (crazy ones and real ones), and we looked at all the things that could stop us.  While there were many small issues we solved, or developed a plan for, in this process, one of the best examples of how a great Strategic Plan could work was in deciding how to increase product awareness and sales to the desired customers.

Everyone at the company felt that they needed to bring on a couple of top-notch sales people who could cover the continent.  The problem was that, just like a full time CFO, highly qualified experienced sales people are expensive to employ full-time and for this company the selling process could take up to a year.  That was an added overhead the company just could not afford.  So instead we looked to how we could leverage the skills of others and decided that if we could possibly find distributors who already sell products to our desired large customers, maybe they could be our conduits to sales.

So we laid out a plan, and a timetable (the most critical element is that you MUST have a timetable).   We decided that we wanted a distributor in 50 States and 12 provinces.  I suggested to the team that we set a goal of 1 year to achieve this and I was almost laughed out of the room.  “Impossible” they said.  But, not wanting to leave and still wanting to become an investor, I asked them not to think about it as 50 new distributors in the US and 12 in Canada a year, but rather 4 distributors in the US and 1 in Canada each month.  I suggested that by breaking this seemingly insurmountable plan down into bite sized pieces that not only might we get there, we might just get there faster than we think.

After much debate, not only did we agree to give this a try, but with everyone being so busy we asked everyone on the team to contribute just a little bit.   That meant sharing our plan with other customers and contacts, getting on line to research who might be out there, and start making calls.  The admin assistant of the company drove the process by recording and organizing everyone’s efforts and new contacts daily, and by doing lots of outreach on her own as well.  The team developed financial terms that were good for the distributor that would also be great for the company, and the sales manager found a draft Distributor Agreement that was only 2 pages and had the lawyer sign off.

In month one we signed off on 2 of the 5 that was our goal, and in month 2 we got 4 of 5.  The numbers increased every month and by the end of month 10 we had a distributor in all 50 States and 12 provinces in Canada.  We achieved this “unachievable goal” in 10 months instead of the year – even when the team thought getting it done in a year was impossible.

The result of setting the strategic goal to eastablish a network of Distributors was the company  increased the value of the average sale from $20,000 per sale to $125,000, margins increased from 20% per sale to almost 50%, and the customer profile went from a privately owned business with under $5 million in sales to 80% of customers now being listed on the Fortune 500 – and three of them on the Dow 30.

To be fair, there were lots of fits and starts to get to this point, and there were times that it all seemed like it would come crashing down.  But, by having that strategic plan to keep going back to and to measure themselves by, and by having a month to month plan of something achievable rather than a one year plan that seemed impossible, the Company did achieve what seemed like impossible goals.  And today the same team is still working their butts off to continue growing the company – but they smile a lot more than they used to – and they know their now larger paychecks can be cashed.

There are dozens of stories like this from our CFOs at the CFO Centre.  Strategic Planning may seem like fluff when you can barely make payroll next Friday.  But in reality, a strategic plan is exactly the tool that a company with great products or services needs. Whether you are barely breaking even, or making millions in profit, EVERY company will grow and improve with a well developed, and well executed, Strategic Plan.  The part-time CFO is the perfect resource to help an already busy team make this happen.

 

 

 

 ____________________________________

Chris Carl has a 30-year career growing manufacturing based companies with novel technologies both as start-ups and within Fortune 500 companies. Having held both CFO and CEO roles, he has raised a combined $500 million in debt, mezzanine and equity financing in private and public companies listed in Canada, the US and Europe.   

The CFO Centre provides highly experienced, part-time CFOs to small and mid-market organizations at a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO. We are committed to helping companies work through complex financial issues, in order to maximize profit and provide senior financial leadership.

Our global team has over 400 CFOs across 13 countries; our services include business and strategic plan development, financial reporting, cash flow management, internal control, risk assessment and mitigation, training and development, and negotiations.

www.thecfocentre.ca
1-800-918-1906 or email: [email protected]

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