A client recently said to me: “I want to grow our business and stop the cash burn – how do we do this? When is it the right time to invest and grow?”
What a tough question to answer. Each business is at a different stage.
We spent a day examining his business and determining what the growing pains were. He had started the business a few years ago and it grew from scratch to $750k turnover last financial year. This year they may potentially reach a turnover of $1.2m.
It was generating a great turnover and growing but they never had any cash.
“Why?” he asked.
After reviewing the business financials it was quite clear that the internal systems were not in place. He could not possibly understand the profitability of the products they were selling due to these inadequate systems.
Therefore they could not take the next step.
The first question I asked was: “Where do you want to take this business – what’s your goal? To build up the business and exit down the line, or are you looking to exit now? Or is this business a keeper if we can generate a great RoI?”
The response was: “We don’t know the numbers or where this business could get too as we have no clarity on the numbers”.
Something I see very commonly here in the SME businesses I work with – no clarity around the financials.
Step one for this particular client was to build a reporting framework around their products to determine what was profitable and what as not. If there were non profitable products (or those that deliver little profitability), should we dump them or only include them bundles in the online offering?
Step two: Build a fully flexible 3-way financial model (P&L, Cash Flow and Balance Sheet) for the next 3 years. Play around with the assumptions, i.e what other products can we put into the offering to customers?
Step three: Monthly reviews against the plan – what worked, what didn’t work and the whys around both.
The right time for a business to grow is when they can balance new customer demand with their internal systems and processes. Moreover, in the instance of this client, increasing recurring revenue streams. Growing faster generally costs more per customer as they need to engage more expensive channels within the business model.
Scalability is about continuing to engage customers with new offerings, and to engage new customers with your offering to the market.
To scale a business one must consider how the business model will affect the bottom line when you expand operations. If you have low capital expenditure and can grow your business with the same revenue / expense % it is much easier to deliver greater numbers in the long term and provide greater options to your customers.
It is early days working with this client but the potential is endless.
The impact of 2020 will stay with us for the rest of our lives. It marks a critical inflection point of before and after. It is a year that blindsided many small-business owners.
We’ve seen new businesses birthed with success and others thriving amid chaos. We’ve seen neighbourhood classics tragically lost, and others that struggle to survive day-to-day.
Critical points like these thrust every business owner from acting with strategic intention to reacting to curveballs. As we progress through 2021, most businesses are settling into one of three camps:
Thriving, but not trusting the success
Reviving but hesitant to make bold moves
Surviving and feeling battered, bruised and disillusioned
No matter which category you fall into, you likely are eyeing the rest of 2021 with caution. You’re optimistic but timid in your approach to making those big visionary goals you’ve made in the past. You may even find it hard to dream of a better future because it feels so out of touch with what is happening globally. You are not alone in those feelings.
Now is the opportunity to rewrite the rules and stop settling for less in your business. It is the opportunity to cast a strategic vision that is different from the past and to create more success and growth in your business and your life. Here are some ways you can make it happen.
1. Accept that change is necessary
Change is difficult, but it is for-ever ongoing for small-business owners. And change is happening at a frightening pace.
You’ve likely noticed that the old reliable ways of getting clients and serving them are faltering. The to-do list of things that need your attention is never ending. It’s time to put them to bed.
If change is already happening in your business, why not get ahead of it? When you are reacting to these changes, you treat the symptoms. The better approach is to embrace change to treat the problem.
By treating the problem, you employ change to work with you, not against you. People are likely to welcome strategic change now—especially if the change makes their lives better too.
One way to bring agility and innovation into your business is to implement a quarterly strategic planning and review process into your business. This planning keeps your efforts focused, actionable and accountable while remaining agile and able to shift as new learnings come to the table.
As part of the process, ask yourself these questions.
What would disrupt your business enough to change everything?
How can you be on the leading edge of that change?
How can the business be relevant and profitable five or even 10 years from now?
2. What does the customer really want / need?
The old rules of supply and demand have gone. Through issues with manufacturing and distribution, product-based businesses feel the pinch. Changing client needs and social distancing have left recession-proof businesses struggling. Service-based businesses are finding that their services are no longer crucial or needed. No business or business model has been unaffected.
The reason is simple: The customers’ needs and their problems are in a constant state of change.
Engaging in a conversation with your clients to identify opportunities is a perfect strategy moving forward. The strategy could be as simple as asking a probing question at the end of every client interaction. It could also be more involved such as surveys or quarterly client advisory groups, to follow a more formal process.
More than ever, staying in tune with the customers’ needs and the problems you can solve is imperative. It is the gateway for future growth and innovation.
3. Work smarter, not harder
Australian culture is all about hard work. If you have struggled to achieve your goals, you’ve likely heard someone telling you to work harder.
Since the rise of intellectual capital as a commodity in the 1980s, the ability to be successful is less about our ability to work hard. Many business owners have told me how hard they work only to find success seemingly out of their reach. Evidence that success is not about hard work.
Sure, success demands focus, determination and resilience. But I challenge the notion that hard work is one of the requirements. If it were, we would have more success stories to celebrate.
Working smarter is about leveraging the talents of people and collaboration. When you remove hurdles and bottlenecks in your processes, you promote ease. It’s the processes that are often the problem. That which is easy gets accomplished. That means being able to produce more revenue with the resources you have. You likely will see a boost to team morale and stop spending time putting out fires.
It leverages technology and systems to streamline the business, allowing it to run smoothly. According to Gartner Research, by 2024, organizations will lower operational costs by 30% by combining hyper automation technologies with redesigned operational processes.
Consider which elements of your client experience and service could be delivered through automation, saving critical points for human interaction and forward looking strategies for your business. The organisational efficiencies gained can offset growth investments and produce a more efficient team.
4. Profit is the aim, not a reward
One of the most misleading entrepreneurial and inspirational quotes is: “Follow your passion and the money will follow.” If only things were that simple.
If success is a reward of hard work, this quote puts profit on the same unattainable pedestal. Passion for what you do gives you fire in your belly and can bring a sense of contribution. At the end of the day, though, passion doesn’t pay the bills; prolific profit does.
By shifting your mindset around profit and other metrics in your business, a magical change in how you spend your day occurs. You start focusing on initiatives that produce results and impact your bottom line.
A 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose study found that “78% of Americans believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well.” This marriage of purpose and profit is an instance where everyone wins. Clients love supporting social impact; businesses can be profitable and improve their community and world in the process.
For many of my clients, bringing profit up on the priority list, even with reduced revenue, is the defining element of rebuilding business stability.
5. Be a confident leader who empowers others
The entrepreneurial trials of the economic crisis have shaken the confidence of even the most experienced entrepreneurs. We are questioning everything in our professional and personal lives. Whispered conversations with other entrepreneurs over the year let us know that we are not alone in that journey.
With this period of reassessment, the future feels less certain. That uncertainty erodes our confidence to take risks and make bold moves. Past success, “knowing” and being right are pillars in the old definition of confidence.
Be careful—that shaken faith also seeps into our teams’ bones. They want something to champion.
There is good news that can breathe new life into your confidence. You do not need all the answers. You do not even need to know the “how” beyond “what is the best next step?” And, you don’t even need to be right.
Empowering others is what defines the success of top leaders. What got you here has centered around who you are and what you can accomplish. Those accomplishments won’t fuel the future. Relying on your efforts alone is a limiter when scaling your business — even in strong economic times. The old definition of confidence was about what you could do. Your future confidence needs to be about your team and the belief in what the team can do.
For 2021 to be the beginning of your comeback story, you need to take action differently enough to move the needle in your business. Make bold moves that advance and protect your business. Marry your vision to these tips, and you could be looking at a successful year.
Often, we get asked by friends, family and peers: What does a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) actually do? These are frequently people that have known us for years, that we dine with regularly, share holidays with, stand at the side of the footy pitch with! Yet, they don’t fully understand exactly how we have spent our working lives dedicated to helping business owners to transform and scale their businesses. So, if the term “part-time CFO” is as alien to you as “UFO”, here’s what we do, in a nutshell:
Whilst a CFO is a qualified accountant, they also have decades of high-level commercial experience, quite often across many industries.
A CFO works alongside you as the business owner/CEO – giving you more time to work on the business instead of in it. The part-time CFO concept is tremendously cost effective as most CFOs pay for themselves with the cost savings they identify in your business.
In a nutshell, a CFO will typically:
Help you strategize, plan and operate your business to maximise on cash, profitability and company value
Gain access to funding
Ensure you have a solid banking relationship
Become the custodian of your internal Finance function.
Work with your bookkeeper or Finance Officer and/or external Accountant.
Analyse results in the context of the company’s objectives and strategies.
Establish clear KPIs (measures that really matter)
Ensure you (the owner or CEO) understand the financials, the trends and the issues they identify
Assist in growth, expansion (including overseas) and exit strategies
Become a trusted sounding board and devil’s advocate
The need for a part-time CFO may appear earlier on your journey than you may expect. For instance, you may have turnover of over $1million and are experiencing growing pains. Perhaps you would like to grow in a sustainable way, or improve the financial performance of your business. Either way, I would say it’s worth exploring how a CFO can help you in your business.
The CFO Centre
The CFO Centre provides part-time CFOs to SMEs, so you get the experience of a high calibre CFO for a fraction of the cost of a full-time resource. Our CFOs have years of experience as a Senior Finance Executive or CFO for large corporations. They have extensive knowledge and experience to bring to your business. In addition, with no lock in contracts, we can work with the needs of your business, providing our services 1-2 days a week to as little as one day a month.
As a global company, we have over 700 CFOs in 18 countries, so we really have seen it all! Therefore, the benefit for you is that no matter what your needs, however complicated, you can tap into that global wealth of knowledge at no extra cost. It’s pretty powerful stuff.
A rhetorical question for you – “Is the business working for me or am I working for the business?”
Before you answer, perhaps it may be opportune to really reflect on where things stand for you and your business, and what you would like to achieve this year for both.
The thought of taking some time out for reflection may sound like a “nice thing to do”, however it can be a very powerful exercise. It’s been one year since Covid hit, have you made time (with no distractions) to REALLY reflect? Or have you been swept into 2021 with hardly time to a take a breath?
Time to reflect
The practice of Reflection can be an excellent way to provide you with a sense of calm and clarity, allowing you to get clearer on:
What is most important to me personally? (ie what do I value most?)
Am I living the life I choose? If not, what is stopping me?
Why did I start or buy the business?
Are those reasons still valid and aligned with what I want now and for the future?
What does the business need to look like to support my vision and goals?
When you are clear on what is most important to you and the life you would like to live, you can then look at your business through a different lens. It allows you to honestly question whether the business, in its current state, is an enabler or distractor from achieving your personal goals.
Reflection paves the way for truly effective business planning. This starts with YOU and PURPOSE rather than the business itself. With renewed clarity you gain from personal reflection, your plans for the business may start to look very different. For example:
Reducing business dependency on you (or “key people”). This frees you up to spend more time with family or more time to pursue the things that make you truly happy.
Exit or succession planning to facilitate your retirement or next project. And we know this often takes longer to successfully implement than you think!
Realign the business to better reflect your personal values (such as ethical, social, or environmental considerations).
If “more of the same” doesn’t sound appealing to you, take time to reflect on your Why and personal goals. You can then consider and plan how your business will support you in achieving the life you desire.
The CFO Centre is a worldwide group, united by the common Purpose: “To help you live the life you choose by defining and delivering on the numbers that REALLY matter”. Please jump on our website if you would like to know more: www.cfocentre.com.au
Have you ever wondered why your cash-flow fluctuates even when sales are strong? Or how your business is valued in the eyes of an external party? Then you need to know the seven (7) levers in your business.
With just a little additional focus on one or more of these 7 levers, you can directly improve the cash-flow, profitability and/or value of your business. There’s no smoke and mirrors, nor anything particularly difficult to undertake. However, many business owners do not take the time to appreciate how the financial performance of their business really works. So, let’s break it down.
Often business owners will primarily focus on sales volume, in other words trying to sell more. However, whilst sales volume is important, it’s only one of the 7 levers available to you.
What are the 7 levers in a business that control your cash, profit and business valuation?
The first four levers are focused on your Profit and Loss and therefore directly impact the profitability (and cash-flow) of your business. As most, businesses are valued at a multiple of cash earnings. These levers also have a huge impact on the value of your business (along with other aspects such as Brand, customer base / income streams, and internal expertise / “keyman” dependence).
Selling more – although increasing sales can grow your business, don’t forget to focus on the other levers below! How much of every extra $1 in revenue turns into profit and into cash in your bank account, and when?
Tip – formulate a sales & marketing plan, with a budget, which is aligned back to your overall Strategy. Review and tweak the plan regularly. This will help keep you focused on the right way to grow your top line. Any growth needs to be sustainable!
can you increase your prices? Even a 1% increase can have a big impact. There can be a fear of losing customers by putting up your prices, which can often be unfounded.
Tip – review your margins by product / service stream / customer to ascertain which sales are making you money and which are not. You need to know your break-even points! Your part- time CFO can help – they love this stuff!
Tip – the results of your pricing analysis need to dovetail into the sales & marketing plan. It’s possible to make more profit from less turn-over!
3. Cost of Goods Sold – reductionin % terms
This lever is most relevant to those businesses with direct costs such as manufacturers, construction, etc and places the focus on your gross margin.
Tip – revisit your direct purchasing arrangements and negotiate better terms and pricing. For example, bulk purchase discounts, early payment discounts, reduced freight. Maintaining strong supply chain relationships is important but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the question (or find potential alternatives).
Tip – review your direct labour-force using metrics such as labour utilisation, overtime levels, re-work, customer complaints, and down-time. You may be able to re-deploy staff or reduce casual labour / overtime once you have this data. Again, your part-time CFO can make this happen for you.
This may sound like an obvious one, but we always find at least some unnecessary “fat” in our client’s overhead expenditure.
Tip – someone needs to review the overheads line by line. Indirect / office wages, communications, insurance, utilities, freight, and advertising are the common ones where savings can be achieved. Even small reductions in certain areas can all add up over time!
These last three levers are focused on your Balance Sheet and are collectively called Working Capital. They have a significant impact on your cash-flow and therefore also on your funding requirements. Many businesses can avoid additional debt borrowings, or pay their existing debt faster by shortening their cash-conversion cycle.
5. Reducing debtor days
This means improving the ageing profile of your Accounts Receivable function (i.e. getting your customers to pay you faster).
Tip – review your credit control policy and your payment terms as customers with poor payment histories should be carefully managed. Review your collections process in terms of who chases the debt and when. The introduction of direct debit may be an excellent solution for some businesses.
6. Reducing stock days
This means a faster conversion of your inventory (if you carry it) into sold product, thereby reducing the amount of stock you hold.
Tip – introduce a stock-take process if you don’t have one. This can ensure that your financial records mirror what you actually have on the shop-floor. Then review the results of the stock-take for slow-moving or obsolete stock items which may need to be discounted in order to convert them into cash. Your purchasing policies may also need review if you are over-stocked with certain inventory lines.
7. Increasing creditor days
This means taking longer to pay suppliers (without hurting the relationship or cutting off supply).
Tip – contact your suppliers to re-negotiate your settlement terms. It’s just a matter of asking the question – they may say “no” but then again, they may really value your business.
Now you know the what the 7 levers are, it’s time to do something tangible with them in order to make a real impact on your business. If you don’t have the internal expertise or time to make it happen, we would be happy to talk to you about how a part-time CFO can bring this to life. After all, as CFOs it’s what we do!
Many people think that risk management is only for large corporations. This is not the case! Risk management is a NECESSITY FOR EVERY BUSINESS. The hard part is to properly align risk management processes to each unique organisation.
The world is undeniably riskier. Change is ever more rapid, and this has been accelerated by COVID. Increasing digitisation of business processes will inevitably increase cyber-security risk. The world is still highly connected, and McKinsey estimate that supply chain shocks will reduce profits by 42% of annual EBITDA profits every 10 years. Geopolitical risk, climate change, border closures and business disruptors (new business models, social media etc) will all play a part.
• RISK MONITORING
It’s important not to let risk slip off the radar, and for to you be aware of possible issues. Talking to people in your industry can give you insights from other perspectives. Being sucked into day to day operations can leave no time to think about strategy and risks. Moreover, when implementing these strategies, try to consider the related risks by staying close to your business analysis and industry trends. Talking to a CFO, who with a wealth of experience and a fresh pair of eyes may give you new perspectives and insight!
• RISK APPETITE
Decide how much risk you are willing to accept. This depends on the operational and financial strength of the organisation, as well as the business strategy and your risk versus return profile. What’s the takeway? Risk is part of doing business, but make sure it is within your limits, and you are in control.
• RISK MANAGEMENT
Understand how to mitigate risk, e.g. insurance, experts, financial tools or internal controls.
Work on simple scenario modelling to understand implications and solutions. Simple cyber security audits can also be useful.
Curtail activities that exceed your risk limits.
Restructure staffing so that owners/managers have some time to think about risks and strategy.
Ensure risk management is embedded in the organisation.
Ensure internal controls are in place so you have confidence that risks are controlled and reported.
Risk management is a must do. To be successful it needs to be correctly sized, using appropriate techniques. If this is not done, risks can damage or destroy the business. Too complex and it will detract from the real world task of running the business (and probably wont get done anyway!).
Gary Campbell is a CFO Centre Principal based in Melbourne, Australia, advising SMEs on finance, strategy and governance. He is a qualified accountant, MBA, and graduate of Australian Institute of Company Directors. He can be contacted on [email protected]
THE 5 KEY THREATS TO AUSTRALIAN WINERIES – WHAT TO DO? (part 2)
To recap, threats were:
1.Demographic shift in consumer base
2.Reduced cellar door and restaurant sales
3.International trade tensions
4.Increased emphasis on e-commerce
5.Changing values of consumers
1.ONGOING DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT OF CONSUMERS
Wineries must understand and deal with this. Key is to capture the younger drinkers. My article WINERY CHALLENGES, COVID and THE NEW 4 MARKETING “Ps” gives a framework for dealing with this. For instance, declining cellar door sales can be counterbalanced by targeted use of social media, including influencers, or by partnering with organisations and causes attractive to younger consumers in your location, to improve web site on-line sales. Smart use of social media, to exploit the COVID created heightened need for local community engagement, could improve local on-line sales.
BE PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE
It would be foolhardy for wineries to ignore these threats (and other future shifts). They should regularly evaluate the potential impact, prepare high level scenarios, and take appropriate action if considered necessary. For example reduce over dependence on a particular export country. In Australia’s case, a target for increased export sales, to remove dependence on China, could be USA market, which has been a shrinking market for Australia (but not for NZ), and now represents just 15% by value of exports. For example, targeted social media activity to improve high margin wine club member and website sales. Consider low alcohol wines. Consider best on-line practices on how to increase and engage and maintain club membership. Experiment with different packaging sold through different channels. The idea is to do small low risk experiments to learn from. And be prepared for the unexpected.
UNDERSTAND REAL PRODUCT COSTS
Often small wineries do not understand the real cost of wine production, or the profitability and cashflows from different customers or sales channels. Pricing and marketing strategy cannot succeed if it is based off erroneous and misleading product costs. Wineries should improve reporting and processes so they understand the true costing and profitability.
BUILD A FINANCIAL BUFFER
There are a number of financial levers to pull which will improve profitability. Some are more effective than others, and they may have different impact on cash (than on profit). Proper costing (see point 3) will enable correct decisions on pricing, channel selection and which financial levers to use. This will optimise cash and thus build reserve buffers for the unexpected. Which will likely happen. Who predicted COVID, and even those that predicted a pandemic would never have imagined that it would eventually lead to a geopolitical spat with China and then protests of wine “dumping”.?
REVIEW RETURNS ON ASSETS
Make a list of all major assets and consider the return (profit) on each asset, e.g. winery, cellar door, restaurant, staff etc. Consider the risk of high fixed costs compared to an outsourced or variable cost model., e.g. should I use the winery for something else, or sell it, and have my wine made outside? Consider alternative uses for assets, and the resulting returns, e.g. should the restaurant become a venue for function hire? Stay nimble. Even the largest businesses constantly review and finetune strategies. As noted in Harvard Business Review of November 2017, “Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust”.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IS RELEVANT & INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT
i) As a basic, IT should capable of supporting increased on-line direct to consumers sales, such as winery club members, and website sales. It should also enable an engaging relationship with customers.
ii) Depending on size of winery, and customer base, it may be necessary to take this to a higher level and build a true e-commerce capability. This will mean identifying and working with e-commerce platforms, partners and channel sales opportunities.
iii) The highest level is analytical and productivity enhancing software. As e-commerce activity increases, software to analyse sales data to identify issues/behaviours and opportunities with customers will be beneficial.
iv) IT is not just for finance and sales. It is increasingly relevant in the vineyard. Deloitte note in their 2018 NZ benchmarking report that IT capability can be used to improve quality of wine, increase vineyard yields and reduce environmental footprint.
Gary Campbell is a Principal for the CFO Centre, based in Victoria. He is a chartered accountant, an MBA, has a passion for wine, formal wine qualifications, and advises winery (and other sector) clients.
One of the areas often overlooked by business owners in their planning is an exit plan. Whilst they may not be considering exiting the business in the near future, there will possibly come a time when you are considering it’s time to move on and you will want to ensure to the business is in good stead when you walk away which is why exit planning is so important.
There are any number of reasons the owner may wish to exit a business that they have invested (not just financially) so heavily into. The most common are retirement, realising the current value of the company, to start a new challenge / venture to name but a few.
Types of Exit
The main options an owner can exit their business are:
Selling the business to realise it’s valuation
Selling it or passing it on to the next generation
Creating a succession plan; or
Closing the business
Why the Plan is so Important
Whichever exit plan you decide on, to avoid complications it is imperative that there is a propr plan in place.
Failure to have a proper exit plan in place can not only put the stability and future success of the company at risk, but it can also put your own financial health at risk, so it is obvious that planning is incredibly important from both a business and personal standpoint. When you have a clear plan in place for your exit, it allows you to maximise the amount of money that you get from the business, ensure a smooth handing over and help the company to be in a good position moving forward.
The Exit Plan
Creating a high-quality exit plan is hard and the best type will depend on the size of your company, individual’s (yours and other employees) circumstances and the type of exit that you are opting for. For such a complex business plan, it is advisable to use an independent financial advisor who can assist with the financial planning around your departure as well as setting you up for the future whether this is constructing an investment portfolio or retirement planning.
Business owners tend not to think about what will happen when they walk away from the business but this is a time that needs to be planned for. Having a proper exit plan in place is important in terms of a smooth changeover, safeguarding the future of the business and ensuring that you are in a good financial position following your departure.
The below interview was conducted between Jonathan Englert, Founder of Andiron Group, and Nick Crawford – Regional Director at The CFO Centre.
THE EVOLVING ROLE OF THE CFO
Jonathan: Thanks a lot, Nick, for joining me to do a deep dive into what it is to be a CFO, what the life and the work entail.
So what’s a CFO?
Nick. The role of the CFO covers a number of aspects. We’re there to work on the strategy with the business, to see where the business wants to go over the next two, three, four, five, 10 years. But also, there’s a big operational role to make sure that the parts of the business are functioning in a way that you’d expect them to and to suggest and help with corrective action, if it’s so needed.
So, in terms of the way my life works, when you’re a part-time CFO and you’re tending to work with SMEs, a lot of it is sharing the stress, sharing the strain, with these people who own the business. Very quickly, they run into issues around finance and not understanding. You might have a tax accountant and you might have your own bookkeeper, but that’s all linked to history. It has nothing to do with where we’re going to go in the future.
A lot of the role of the CFO is anticipating the pothole in the road before you hit it and [ensuring] your wheel doesn’t fall off your car. So it’s really managing the whole of the financial function, but also interrelated with the operations of the business.
TheCFO in the industry isn’t just a finance person. They’re more an operational person. They’re always tending to move more to COO. So in a lot of the roles I’ve done, I managed back of house, with the exception of marketing. You look after HR, you look after IT, you look after property estates. You look after a lot of the operational issues that aren’t the actual function.
CFO AS LEADER BEYOND CRUNCHING NUMBERS
Jonathan: As a non-CFO, I’ve been in businesses where the CFOs have had varying degrees of influence, from numbers crunchers to actual people who are on leadership teams, rolling up their sleeves and injecting creative ideas into the business. And I just wondered if with CFOs, there’s a bias about “just stick to the numbers.”
Nick: I think that’s a perception, but if you look at a lot of large organizations globally, you’d find a big number of the CEOs now are actually accountants, CFOs or finance directors by profession. Because what’s interesting and enjoyable in the job is just some of those things that you’ve said, where you’re part of a leadership group and you’re steering the business.
An example this week: we had a potential resignation at one of my clients, and immediately, the sales director was on the phone to me, saying, “Oh Nick, Nick, what can I do, what can I do?” I only work with them one day a week. I’m not full-time CFO, but they will turn to me for that sort of guidance.
Jonathan. I think what you just said is really interesting. It’s a real testament to the fact that it’s not about just being on site or quote-unquote “part of the team” anymore. The whole nature or definition for how we work is that it’s really based on the value that you deliver in the rapport.
Nick. Correct. Just as a little aside, people say to me, “What’s the judge of when you’ve been accepted by a client?” And I say, “If they invite me to the Christmas party, then I know I’m part of the team.”
It’s important that you’re not just there as an external advisor. And a way that they value you as a member of the team is they invite you along when they go out for a function, and they’ll have a beer with you. It’s not just purely a work relationship.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU NEED A CFO
Jonathan. What are the signs that your company needs a CFO, or a CFO function or influence?
Nick. Some of the signs are often people struggling with the cashflow. Historically, you’ve relied on a bookkeeper and a tax accountant to do your accounts, but you’re never really looking at where the business is going. So you’re starting to struggle to understand, “Can I afford to do this, can I afford to do that?”
Or you don’t understand your business. One of the things that I find quite astounding is, people really don’t understand how to price their business. A business will engage me… and maybe not in the first couple of weeks, but after a little while you sit down with them and go, “Well, just explain to me how you actually work out what you’re going to charge the clients.” And you sit down with them and you go, “Well, yeah, but you’ve not thought about this, and you’ve not thought about that, you’ve not thought about the others.”
And often, we end up working with them and the information they’re working with is terrible. It’s not been put together very well. There’s big issues with it. So they’re making decisions on false information.
Size is often a decider as well. A business will get to a certain size, and then they start to realize the founder is now out of his depth, the person that they’ve engaged as a bookkeeper or tax accountant is out of their depth. To take the business to the next level, they need to engage somebody with a more senior strategic financial brain.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DATA
Jonathan. One of the things that you said that was quite interesting is the notion of walking into a situation where the data isn’t there.
Nick. I’ll give you an example. One of the guys I played golf with this morning, he does a client for me and he’s been working with them for six months. When they started doing the work, it was just appalling.
What they’ve done is, they moved from MYOB to QuickBooks. And when they moved from MYOB to QuickBooks, nobody checked that the data that came through was correct. So they were actually operating with a set of numbers that was actually incorrect and didn’t balance.
I know that might not mean a great deal to you, but the fundamental thing in a set of accounts is they always balance. You know, for every debit, there’s got to be a credit. And they just had a false number in their accounts, and that’s what their internal accountants have been using.
There were far more important things that needed to be looked at from a performance perspective, but we’re saying, “Look, even the foundation of your whole financial function is broken. We have to fix this before we go forward, because you cannot move forward.”
INSIDER ACCESS AND STAYING ON THE TEAM
Jonathan. The moment you’re given insider access, you, as a third party, instantly see these huge gaps. There have been very few businesses I’ve gone into where I haven’t encountered that.
Nick. And then, where you’ve got to be clever is that you’ve got not to put people offside. I’ve got one of the guys [who] has just started for a client this week, and he started to tell me some of the issues that are cropping up.
I said to him, “Mate, you’ve just got to be careful. You don’t want to put everybody in the team offside from the outset. Yes, I accept what you’re saying, and these things will need to be resolved over time, but you’ve got to work with them, you can’t work against them.”
There’s no point going in and firing from the hip, going “That’s wrong, that’s wrong.” You can’t just go in and go start firing off at everyone, because nobody will work with you. So yes, there’s a subtlety of identifying the problem, but making sure you can work with the team to get the solution. Or, if there’s people in there who need to go, you’ve got to work that out and look at how you can do it, but you don’t want to lose the team, because you’ll not get the outcome if you lose the team.
ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE, BUSINESS’ LIFEBLOOD
Jonathan. From a CFO’s perspective, is accounts receivable something that you want to be out of sight, out of mind? How does [AR] work for you?
Nick. It can’t be out of sight, because it’s got to be something that you keep an eye on. Ultimately, if your day-to-days run out, that means you’re short of cash.
I work on typically a 13 week period, and I can see some of the big costs that come along. Obviously, you’ve got payroll, but you’ve mostly got TST, you’ve got superannuation. And what contributes into funding all of that is converting sales into debtors into cash. Therefore, there’s an important part in making sure the people are on top of their collections.
And yes, using your word, you’d almost have to be a psychopath to enjoy giving people a hard time. You phone up and they give you a sob story and you go, “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry,” “Yeah, we’ll give you another week.”
But at the end of the day, if you keep doing that, ultimately, you can’t even pay your bills. And then we won’t be able to do what we need to do. So, it’s imperative, it’s the lifeblood of the business. Cash is king, and where do we get our cash from? Our customers.
You’ve got to be on top of it all the time. It’s a vital role within the business. Vital.
How much cash reserve cover should your business have?
Recently in discussions with clients the focus is still on effective reporting, strategy, banking relationships and the 4 levers that drive a business, but in these uncertain times a new question is being asked… how much cash cover should our business have? We currently have ($ x) based on an internal theory and are building with multiple bank accounts for key items etc. Is this the right amount and how will this affect us long term in meeting our core strategic goals?
In past reviews of annual dividend and repatriation polices, the focus is on forecast cashflow (key inflows and outflows), required capital expenditure and potential investment strategies aligning to regulatory requirements. Whilst this still holds true, business owners are now more focussed on what they should be holding as a reserve – and equally maintaining.
A good conversation starter with your financial advisor / CFO / Board advisor is; what is comfortable to the key stakeholders in maintaining? Consideration in the conversation must be given with transparency and thought towards:
Reserve amounts and best use effectively: Focus on building the reserve to comfortable or adequate levels.
Historical Cash flow forecast review: How much do you spend each month and seasonality effect of that spend required. Regular review of what you are spending and timing, especially with key items such as taxes etc.
How much is right for your business? 3 months or 6 months – keeping in mind that a large reserve may also limit potential growth and profits
How to build it? This is where your CFO / Board Strategic advisor will best to help in ways to do this and maintain via Financial scenarios including factoring and additional bank lines of credit.
If you would like any help with determining how much cash reserve cover you should have please feel free to reach out to us via [email protected]
Article written by Brendan Raftery – CFO at The CFO Centre.