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Why and How You Should Scale Up Your Business

If you consider what sets companies like eBay, Alibaba, Netflix, Google, Starbucks, Apple, Cisco and Dell apart from other companies, their ability to continuously innovate and create high growth will probably come high on your list.

So should the fact they’ve all successfully transitioned from start up to scale up status without losing their ability to be dynamic and entrepreneurial.

Then there’s the fact they’ve helped create thousands of full-time and part-time jobs throughout the world. Twenty-three-year-old eBay, for example, employs 14,100 full- and part-time employees while Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. has 88,100 full-time employees.

In his book, Scale Up!, the FD Centre’s Chairman Colin Mills defines scale ups as companies which have grown by 20% a year for a minimum of three years and which started the three year period with a minimum of 10 employees.

Scale ups disrupt and revolutionise entire industries, according to a Deloitte & THNK report. “They embody ingenuity, innovation, and foresight,” its authors concluded after studying 400,000 enterprises worldwide.

There’s a common misconception that only start ups can be innovative, dynamic and entrepreneurial. Yet as scale ups like Google and Alibaba illustrate, that’s far from the case.

Perhaps start ups attract more attention because there’s so many of them: it’s estimated that there are 300 million start ups globally. By comparison, only a tiny fraction of start ups ever survive long enough to make the transition to scale up, according to the authors of the Deloitte report.

“Our research shows that the chances of a new enterprise to ascend as a scale up are around 0.5%, which means that only 1 out of 200 surviving new enterprises will become a scale up. ‘Unicorns’ make up the even smaller subset of scale ups; only 104 start ups are valued over $1 billion.”

Those companies that do become scale ups help to boost local, national and international economies. They provide direct, ongoing employment and that, in turn, creates more consumer spending which in turn stimulates the economy and expands the tax base.

Or as business guru and venture capitalist Daniel Isenberg says in Scale Up!, “One venture that grows to 100 people in five years is probably more beneficial to entrepreneurs, shareholders, employees and governments alike, than 50 which stagnate at two years.”

Contrary to what many policymakers believe, start ups don’t help economies to flourish or cause per capita income to rise.

“The relationship between per capita income and entrepreneurial activity is generally negative, rather than positive as is often believed,” wrote Scott Shane, Professor at Case Western Reserve University, in Entrepreneur magazine. He referenced a Gallup Organisation survey which compared per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the fraction of the population that reported being self-employed in 135 countries. It showed that the self-employed fraction had a negative linear relationship with the log of GDP.

“That is, self-employment rates are lower in rich countries than in poor ones.”

But growing a company past the start up phase is not without its share of challenges, whether they are related to employees, sales and marketing, operations, administration, or finance. Most importantly, if growing companies don’t have the right infrastructure to support their expanded operations, those challenges can become increasingly severe.

“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,” says Mills in Scale Up!.

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

If the situation is not resolved, the business will outrun itself (cash reserves will dwindle as it tries to meet the expanded demands) or get stuck (as the owner and employees find themselves unable to cope with the problems).

But if you revise your business model, you can overcome these challenges or even avoid them altogether.

“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,” says Mills.

The CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs help clients revise their business model using a framework known as the ’12 Box’ approach.

It has three levels:

  1. Operational
  2. Strategic
  3. Business Support

Operational

This refers to finance operations and focuses on two key aspects: cash and profitability. There are four boxes: Cash Flow Management and Profit Improvement (which generate money), and Internal Systems and Reporting (which generate time for management).

Strategic

This involves your finance strategy: how are you going to finance the business to achieve future cash and profits? The four boxes in this section cover: Risk Assessment, Strategic Funding, Strategic Activities and Exit Planning, and an Implementation Timetable.

Business Support

This involves crucial tasks such as compliance, tax planning and legal issues, banking relationships and outsourcing. In the case of The CFO Centre’s CFOs, they don’t carry out the tasks but instead, manage the work on a client’s behalf. They’ve built relationships with the right people in each country where they operate so that they can connect clients with the right supplier at the right cost when they need it, and then manage the work on their behalf.

Take the F Score: Find Your Future Challenge Areas

To help you identify which one of these 12 areas is a potential current or future pain point for your business, The CFO Centre has created a quick assessment form known as the ‘F Score’. (It will only take nine minutes to complete.)

The F Score features a series of questions built around the 12 Boxes, designed to identify your areas of strength and those which represent a gap. When you’ve completed the questions, you’ll receive an eight-page report which will reveal your current or future challenges. It will not only rate the performance of your company’s finance function but also uncover untapped opportunities for non-linear growth.

To discover how The CFO Centre will help your company to scale up, please call us now on +852 3059 2506 or contact us here.

Free 1-1 Finance Session

Do you have a burning question about any of the following:

  • Cash flow management
  • Funding
  • Profit improvement
  • Exit planning
  • Reporting
  • Getting the most from your bank?

Book now for your complimentary 30-minute finance breakthrough session with one of our part-time CFOs. Get the answers you need to scale up your business.

Ask the CFO

If you’ve got just one finance-related question and you’d like us to send it across to our team of top CFOs, please let us know, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

What to Expect from a Part-Time CFO

The idea of hiring even a part-time CFO may seem to some SMEs a bit over the top—like paying Quentin Tarantino to make a 90-second home page video or booking Wembley Stadium for the company’s five-a-side friendly football match.

But for companies whose ambition is to get into and survive the coveted scale-up phase, hiring a part-time CFO makes perfect sense. They know that they’re getting a finance veteran, someone with big business experience, who can provide the guidance they need to grow rapidly and help them to avoid the costly mistakes that so many ambitious SMEs make as they attempt to move into the Big League.

As Colin Mills, the Chairman of the FD Centre, said in his book about scale-ups, “The reality is that there is great value in having someone from the next level if you’re aspiring to get there.”

Companies who hire part-time CFOs understand that CFOs are capable of delivering far more than bookkeeping or accounting services. They provide the kind of strategic business perspective and support that fundamentally alters the performance/profitability and long term potential for a business. They can work with your board of directors and external stakeholders such as your bank or investors. They can also advise you on mergers and acquisitions. Besides strategic analysis, they can provide operational support on everything finance-related in your business.

Their responsibilities might cover business planning, capital structure, risk management, auditing and reporting, tax planning, capital expenditure, investor communication, R&D investment, working capital management and company budgeting.

Companies that don’t hire CFOs are often unaware of the opportunities and profits they’re missing out on. When asked why so many SMEs don’t hire CFOs, Matthew Bud, Chairman of the international Financial Executives Networking Group, said business owners are either unaware of their need for a CFO or reluctant to spend the money.

What many entrepreneurs don’t realise is that they’re already spending that money in lost profits and misspending,” he told Inc.

“They’re not seeing the dynamics of the business from an educated financial perspective. You can’t always go with your gut in making financial decisions, which is what a lot of entrepreneurs try to do.”

So, what can you expect from a part-time CFO?

Well, the role a part-time CFO will play in your company will depend on factors such as the size of your business, your expectations, your industry, and your corporate strategy and business goals. But a good CFO will work on your company’s finance strategy and finance operations and manage areas such as compliance, tax planning and legals, outsourcing and banking relationships.

To achieve success in these different roles, a CFO will need outstanding hard and soft skills.

If you’re a CEO, the CFO will be your strategic partner, providing financial insight and strategy and helping you to improve profitability and cash flow.

A good CFO won’t, however, be a ‘Yes’ person, someone who rubber-stamps every initiative without due diligence. On the contrary, they will challenge you and your vision for your business asking the kinds of questions which leads to transformation as opposed to incremental improvement.

Charles Holley, CFO-in-residence at Deloitte and former Walmart CFO, says good CFOs are independent-minded yet supportive of their CEO.

My CEOs counted on me to be the truth teller, to form my own opinions on important company decisions and to speak up. At the same time, they expected my support for execution.”

Great CFOs challenge the business, he says. They point out problems and propose possible solutions to “spark the debate”.

CFOs are in the best position to call attention when the numbers aren’t supporting the strategy. For example, CFOs can push the business to change capex priorities when the underlying ROI assumptions are no longer supported by the numbers.”

Besides being a trusted advisor and sounding board, a good CFO will help to raise efficiencies, identify opportunities, manage risk management, and manage capital structure.

Since they speak the language of financiers and understand what they are really interested in, CFOs can also liaise with financial institutions, investors, and auditors on your behalf.

In other words, a part-time CFO can help you to manage the transition into the scale-up phase more smoothly and ensure you reach your growth targets sooner.

How it works in practice

The CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs use a proven framework known as the ’12 Boxes’ to identify where the problems are within any business. They use it to review every aspect of your company finance function and identify every problem area.

They will help you to understand your company’s finances; eliminate cash flow problems; identify cost-savings, and improve profits.

They can also help you and your team to understand your main profit drivers; find and arrange funding; identify your Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), help you to expand nationally and internationally; and build value to make your business more attractive to investors or buyers.

To discover more about the 12 Boxes, click here.

Need help?

To discover how a CFO Centre part-time CFO will help your business, contact us now on +852 3059 2506. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, click here. You can see how they add rocket fuel to any business here.

Uncover strengths and weaknesses

Identify the strengths and gaps in your business in just nine minutes with the F-Score.

Just answer a brief series of questions, and you’ll receive an 8-page report that will reveal potential current or future pain points for your business. It will also help you to rate the performance of your finance function and uncover untapped opportunities for growth. Click here now to take the F-Score.

Got a Big Question?

If you have a burning question for one of our team of CFOs, ask it here, and you’ll get an answer within 24 hours. Please note the question must be finance-related (sadly they can’t give horse-racing or fashion tips or relationship advice).

What A Chief Finance Officer Can Do for Your Company

You might think a Chief Finance Officer’s role is confined to traditional finance activities, but todays CFO can do so much more than count beans.

In the past, a CFO’s responsibilities might have been confined to high-level accounting such as providing timely financial statements and monthly management reports, managing investments and expenses, monitoring cash flow, and managing risk. But as the business landscape has become more complex over the past decade, the role of a CFO has changed.

That change is due to factors such as the global financial crisis—the biggest since the Great Depression of the 1930s, disrupted and volatile markets, the rise of big data, and the impact of digital and social media.

As a result, CEOs and their Boards expect so much more from CFOs, according to a KPMG report.

“CEOs are increasingly looking to their finance leaders to help drive wider business strategies,” says Simon Dergel, author of ‘Guide to CFO Success’.

They expect CFOs to make decisions and shape their plans based on the company’s ambitions, he says. As the keeper of the company’s data with an understanding of every department’s objectives and performance, they can play an active role in refining and aligning business strategies.

“Perhaps the biggest change in terms of the CFO’s role in business today is that their advice is not only valued—it is necessary,” says Dergel.

“Businesses are currently dealing with a wave of disruptive competitors and fast-changing customer expectations, while also managing a global talent shortage and volatile financial conditions. The wisdom and experience of finance leaders make them indispensable in the boardroom as companies look to tackle one of the most uncertain economic periods in decades.”

Most importantly, CFOs are delivering on these expectations. The new breed of CFOs are now much more forward-looking. They wear three ‘hats’ at any given time: financial expert, active management team member and leader of the finance function.

Given the opportunity, they can perform multiple roles within a company, working both on and in the business. Not only can they direct financial performance and protect the financial integrity of the company but they can also drive strategy.

This is borne out by James Riley, the Group Finance Director and Executive Director of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd., who says, “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.

“Other priorities for a CFO are to have strength of character, personality, and intellect. I take it as a given in reaching such a position that an individual would have the requisite technical knowledge and financial skills.”

How Start-Ups and Scale-Ups Benefit

Most start-ups and early-stage growth companies don’t need and can’t afford the services of a full-time CFO. But that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from all that CFOs offer. They can access the skills of highly qualified CFOs by engaging them on a part-time basis.

Part-time CFOs can provide enormous value in terms of strategy and planning for early-stage or scale-up companies. A report from the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF) went further: it described their role as “critical to the success of start-up and early-stage growth companies” since they provide key insights.

It found CFOs play key roles in not only managing a young and fast-growing company’s finances but also in setting broader strategic goals and establishing and achieving financial and non-financial milestones.

When the company is at a stage when it needs external investment, the part-time CFO can manage the process to ensure it raises the right type of funding from the right sources. The part-time CFO can also provide more comprehensive reporting as well as manage the relationship with the external investors, whether they are venture capitalists, private investors or banks.

Part-time CFOs also help to establish sound reporting systems and tools that help improve reporting metrics and communications to investors.

They also play a key part in setting and monitoring company strategy and maintaining a balance between investing in growth, building market share and preserving capital for future opportunities.

As they grow, the need for a part-time CFO’s financial and strategic acumen becomes more acute, FERF found.

The CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs bring these skills to every client at a fraction of the cost of their full-time counterparts. For instance, its part-time CFOs can:

  • Provide you with an overview of your company so that you can make sound decisions about its future.
  • Help you to understand your company’s finances.
  • Eliminate cash flow problems.
  • Identify cost-savings within your company.
  • Improve your profits.
  • Create a realistic business plan and so make better financial decisions.
  • Help you and your management team to manage your finances with ease.
  • Develop clear strategic objectives.
  • Identify your Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  • Find and arrange funding.
  • Understand your main profit drivers.
  • Identify your best customers.
  • Sort out your tax position.
  • Introduce timely, easy to follow management reports.
  • Facilitate expansion in your country and into other countries
  • Build value to make your company more attractive to investors or buyers

 

To discover how a CFO Centre part-time CFO will help your business, contact us now on +852 3059 2506. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, click here.

The Rising Power of AI in Financial Services

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already transforming the way in which financial service companies are doing business.

More and more of them are using AI to process information on their customers, cut costs, save time, monitor behaviour patterns, assess credit quality, automate client interactions, analyse markets, assess data quality and detect fraud.

A pwc Digital IQ 2017 survey found that 72% of business decision makers believe AI will be the business advantage of the future. About 52% said they’re currently making “substantial investments” in AI, and 66% said they expect to be making substantial investments in three years.

Franck Coison, Industry Solution Director, at international IT services company Atos says the four main types of AI are facial and voice recognition, natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. They can be used in chatbots, document analysis, process automation or predictive analysis, he says.

Although robotic process automation (RPA) is increasingly common in financial services, it is usually used for quite simple, repetitive tasks, says Coison. “In contrast, AI can be used to automate more complex tasks that require cognitive, or ‘intelligent’, processes.

“While RPA is appropriate for back-office and accounting processes, when it is combined with AI, any process including customer-facing activities can be automated.”

That means it has great potential in areas such as customer service, sales and customer intelligence, IT services, fraud prevention, and cyber security, he says.

The pwc survey found that adoption of practical machines that think is widespread in the financial services sector. Some banks use AI surveillance tools to prevent financial crime, and others use machine learning for tax planning. Many insurers use automated underwriting tools in their daily decision making and wealth managers offer automated investing advice across multiple channels.

A provider of next-generation investment analytics Kensho Technologies has for example developed a system that allows investment managers to ask investment-related questions in plain English, such as, “What sectors and industries perform best three months before and after a rate hike?”. They receive answers within minutes.

AI is proving popular among banks too. Lloyds Bank, for example, has invested $3billion on its digital transformation initiative, which includes using AI to “simplify and progress modernisation of its IT and data infrastructure, as well as other technology-enabled productivity improvements across the business”.

Terry Cordeiro, Head of Product Management at Lloyds Banking Group says AI has “completely transformed how the finance industry works, with the vision at Lloyds being to use smart machines for extending human capabilities while using data to respond.

“Automating processes means better opportunities to reduce costs for better decision making, and intelligent products mean that our customers are able to do much more,” Corderio says.

Earlier this year, NatWest Bank introduced ‘Cora’, an AI-powered ‘digital human’, which converses with customers in its branches. Cora can answer more than 200 queries, covering everything from mortgage applications to lost bank cards.

The plan is to develop Cora so it can answer hundreds of different questions, as well as detect human emotions and react verbally and physically with facial expressions. As well as being put in branches, Cora could be used by customers at home on their laptop or PC and, in the long run, on smartphones.

Finance departments are also benefiting from AI. The insight into data that it can provide will be a competitive advantage, according to Matthias Thurner of the Corporate Performance Management and Business Intelligence solutions provider, Unit4 Prevero. “For this reason, AI will become integral to finance functions in every industry,” he says.

As technology improves, AI will become faster and smarter at providing analysis, he says. Companies that don’t use it will be at a competitive disadvantage.

“Businesses don’t want to replace their employees, but they do want to make better financial decisions, and AI will allow them to do that faster and cheaper than a whole team of humans.”

It will enable skilled office workers to spend more time on their core competencies rather than maintaining data, he says. This will help organisations to reduce costs and the time spent on manual tasks or the classifying of data.

Likewise, CFOs will benefit from AI data analysis, says Thurner. That’s important since there’s an increasing expectation for CFOs to be a source of business insight. Boards want more frequent reports that contain more context and detail. Fortunately, they will be able to deliver more detailed and more frequent reports thanks to AI, he says.

But it’s unlikely a CFObot will appear in finance departments any time soon. “We can expect machine learning to powerfully augment human expertise and experience in the near future even if that’s not a reality today,” says Thurner. “AI can provide data back-up and make suggestions to help the human decision-maker, but it’s the CFO who ultimately has to decide what to recommend,” says Thurner.

With so much potential in key areas of business, it’s no wonder that AI is being hailed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“AI will have an impact as big as electricity and will transform every single industry,” predicts Cordeiro of Lloyds Banking Group.

To discover how a part-time CFO will help your company, please call the CFO Centre Hong Kong on +852 3059 2506 or visit our website now.

Why Hollywood Actors Should Get Training from CFOs

You shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman, Gary Oldman among many other Oscar-winning actors and actresses bear a grudge against Chief Financial Officers.

It’s easy to understand why. For although the likes of Streep and Oldman have achieved fame, fortune and critical acclaim, they can usually only inhabit one role at a time. They take it on for a few months and then move on to the next.

A great CFO, by comparison, is the master or mistress of multiple roles and can switch between them easily and effortlessly. What’s more, they perform those multiple roles day in, day out for weeks, months and even years.

That’s because a CFO is there to help the business owner achieve the company’s objectives by providing financial and strategic guidance to ensure it meets its financial commitments and to develop policies and procedures to ensure its financial management is sound. The Institute of Directors says the CFO is “often viewed as the member of the board who creates a solid foundation upon which a business can grow”.

It’s why a typical CFO Job advertisement features a huge list of responsibilities. These will often include the following and more:

  • Providing strategic financial leadership to optimise the organisation’s medium to long-term financial performance and strategic position
  • Contributing fully to the implementation of organisation strategy across all areas of the business, challenging assumptions and decision-making as appropriate and providing financial analysis and guidance on all activities, plans, and targets
  • Providing robust financial reporting and analysis to the Board of Directors, Finance, Risk and Governance Board and Corporate Management Team including the provision of financial support to strategic decision-making and transactions
  • Working with senior management to steer the business towards the goal of greater financial independence and sustainability
  • Providing cash management – monthly cash flow reporting and long-term strategic cash management
  • Overseeing the preparation of VAT and other statutory submissions
  • Developing and ensuring compliance with financial policies and controls
  • Presenting annual accounts to the General Meeting.
  • Risk management and reporting – maintenance of the organisation’s risk register ensuring control processes are fit for purpose
  • Developing an IT strategy which supports the organisational strategy.

 

Although CFOs aren’t expected to be able to speak in an accent, swordfight or ride a horse as actors are, they are expected to have accountancy qualifications, excellent communication and interpersonal skills, the ability to manage complex stakeholder relationships and to provide strong attention to detail with commercial and strategic acumen.

 

So, as you can see, at any time during a CFOs day, the CFO will be a sounding board/mentor for the CEO (and sometimes the only one to point out the flaws in a ‘blue sky’ idea), strategic advisor, bookkeeper, financial controller, risk management advisor, finance team leader, recruitment advisor and much more.

Being able to adapt to any one of the roles comes from experience. The CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs, for instance, have all had years of experience working in large corporations. They’re used to working in complex, demanding environments and switching roles as the need arises.

Unlike actors, CFOs don’t perform as they do for applause or for a gold-plated statuette (although many would be very, very happy if you offered to pay them in real gold bullion). They do it to help business owners like you take your fledgling business to new heights of success.

What’s more, you can be sure that the CFO you hire won’t ever pull you aside before or during a meeting to ask, “What’s my motivation?” *

To discover how a CFO Centre part-time CFO will help your business, contact us now on +852 3059 2506. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, just click here.   

* [Note: No Oscar-winning Hollywood actor or actress was harmed during the writing of this article.]

Strategically Outsource to Maximise Efficiency and Productivity

If you’re looking for a quick way to cut costs, boost efficiency and improve productivity then consider outsourcing one or more of your business’ support processes.

Outsourcing has many benefits and can give you a greater competitive edge in your market.

It allows you to tap into a large international talent pool and benefit from external expertise. Your outsourced providers can provide services, innovative approaches, and the latest technology along with cutting-edge solutions that your in-house team might be unable to provide.

It also allows full-time employees to focus on your company’s core competencies.

And it means you have lower operational and recruitment costs. The cost-savings you achieve with outsourcing can help you to release capital for investment in other areas of your business.

But outsourcing does have its downsides. For example, there’s a risk in allowing outsourced providers to handle confidential company data, whether that’s the details of employees or customers or competitive information. Under the GDPR, companies will be held responsible for any third-party data breaches. The penalties for such breaches will be stiff. What’s more, any data breaches will dent your company’s reputation and damage your brand.

Then there’s the risk that the output will be sub-standard or that delivery time frames will be stretched. Both would damage your company’s reputation and possibly result in lost sales.

And there’s a danger that unless the outsourcing is carefully managed, the expected cost savings won’t materialise. This was the case for the UK government. Its programme to outsource back-office functions ended up costing taxpayers £4 million. Officials had predicted the programme would save up to $400 million a year, but after two and a half years, it had saved just $90 million but cost $94 million.

It’s for these reasons many companies are still reluctant to consider outsourcing.

That’s a shame because if the outsourcing is well-managed, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. Take the Alibaba.com e-commerce website, for example. Today, it’s known as the world’s biggest global marketplace but in its early days, its founder Jack Ma had to outsource the website development to a US company. At the time, he couldn’t find development talent in China whereas developers in America had the skills he needed. It also allowed him to overcome the Chinese government’s tight internet restrictions.

Google is another giant that also outsources work to IT specialists, developers and virtual assistants. At one point, Google outsourced phone and email support for AdWords, one of its top-grossing products, to about 1,000 external representatives.

The founders of the hugely popular WhatsApp Brian Acton and Jan Koum also hired the services of external providers. In their case, they used the services of an iPhone developer Igor Solomennikov for the core development work on the app.

What can you outsource?

You can outsource any or all of the following:

  • Administrative tasks such as data entry, typing, travel arrangements and scheduling.
  • Lead generation and customer service including cold calling
  • Marketing including content writing, direct marketing, website design, brand development, press releases, social media, blogging and search engine optimisation
  • IT operations
  • Sales Directors
  • Legal Directors
  • Human Resources including recruitment and the management of employee benefits
  • Accounting and financial duties including bookkeeping, invoicing, accounts payable and receivable, payroll processing and financial reporting. You can, for example, hire a part-time Chief Financial Officer who knows how to finance a business, deal with growth, present meaningful monthly numbers and get the best deals from banks.

It means you get a highly experienced senior CFO with the experience and knowledge to help you plan, manage and control business growth. The CFO Centre will provide you with an CFO with ‘big business experience’ for a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO.

To discover how a CFO Centre part-time CFO will help your business, contact us now on +852 3059 2506. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, just click here.

 

10 Ways To Resolve Your Cash Flow Problems

Managing cash flow is critical to the success of any business. Get it right, and shareholders, creditors, and employees are happy. Get it wrong, and the company could end up on the ropes.

Cash flow problems can beset even profitable companies, particularly those experiencing rapid growth.

So, how do you protect your company from future cash flow issues?

 

1. Cut Costs

Cost-cutting will have a more immediate impact on your bottom line than revenue-raising efforts. You could for instance place a freeze on bonuses and overtime payments. You could also reduce the number of employees through attrition or redundancy. You could also approach creditors to ask for better payment terms.

2. Carry out credit checks

Before taking on new clients, carry out credit checks. Companies that regularly make late payments or default on payments should be red-flagged. You should also get new clients to sign contracts that include your payment terms.

3. Offer early payment discounts

Encourage your clients to pay earlier than normal by offering early payment discounts. The early payment discount should only be used when the company is in urgent need of cash. Do it too often, and you will make a serious dent in your profit margins.

4. Reduce your payment terms

Cut your payment terms from 60 or 90 days down to 30. Think of it this way: when you allow customers to pay in arrears for your products or services, you’re essentially giving them short-term unsecured loans.

5. Lease rather than buy

Consider leasing rather than purchasing cars, property, office furniture, machinery, and IT and telecommunications equipment. The benefit of renting rather than buying is that you will only have to make small monthly payments. This should help your cash flow. You can also claim on the lease expense.

6. Raise your prices

Companies are often reluctant to raise their prices for fear they’ll lose valued customers to competitors. But even a small rise in costs can chip away at your profit margins. You can overcome customers’ resistance to a price rise by offering bundled products or services.

7. Issue invoices promptly

Many companies don’t issue invoices quickly enough or chase late payments. Think of it this way: every sale has already cost the company in some way, whether that’s the purchase of raw materials, warehousing, labour, sales and marketing, and distribution. If you don’t collect what you’re owed, you’ll be worse off than if you never made the sale.

American entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell says a sale is a gift to the customer until the money is in the bank.

8. Use invoice financing

Hire a company that provides invoice financing (either invoice discounting or factoring) to receive an immediate cash injection. Such companies provide funding against your unpaid invoices for a fee.

Usually, you will receive up to 85% of the value of the outstanding invoice within 24 hours. You’ll then receive the remaining 15% minus the broker’s fee once your customer has paid the outstanding invoice.

9. Get external funding

You could approach banks or lending institutions for a short-term loan or use other funding sources such as self-finance, partners, investors and alternative finance like peer– to–peer lending.

10. Hire a part-time Chief Financial Officer

A part-time CFO from the CFO Centre will look for all the things that pose a threat to the company and work with you to resolve them. Your CFO will look for ways you can meet your most pressing financial requirements and review all incomings and outgoings to find where improvements and savings can be made.

You’ll be encouraged to use regular cash flow forecasts. Such forecasts will alert you to possible cash shortfalls in the near future. You can then make arrangements for additional borrowing, for example. It will also make decision-making over whether to hire new staff, raise your prices, move premises, find new suppliers or tender for a large contract.

Put an end to your cash flow problems now by calling the CFO Centre today on +852 3059 2506. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, just click here.

How to Overcome the Problem of Late Payments

When your company is facing yet another cash flow crisis caused by late paying customers, it can be hard to believe there might be a solution.

But there are steps you can take to overcome the problems delinquent payments cause and to avoid them happening again.

Late payments are something that hundreds of thousands of SMEs experience. Of the 1.7 million SMEs in the UK for example, 640,000 say they have to wait beyond the agreed terms for payments, according to Bacs Payment Schemes.

Nearly 40% of them spend up to four hours a week chasing late payers and 12% employ someone specifically to pursue outstanding invoices.

Late payments can threaten SME’s ability to trade, and stifle appetite for growth and recruitment, says Ian Cole, Head of Invoice Finance at Siemens Financial Services. In worst cases, it can lead to insolvency. Mike Cherry, National Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said if payments were made promptly, 50,000 business deaths could be avoided every year.

So too could the problems that late payments cause. Of those SMEs facing late payments, 16% struggle to pay their staff on time, while 28% of company directors reduce their own salaries to keep essential working capital inside their businesses. A quarter (25%) rely on bank overdrafts to make essential payments, and 15% find it difficult to pay business bills like energy, rates, and rent when they’re due.

Late payments take an emotional toll on business owners and CEOs too.

Over a quarter (29%) of UK SME owners struggle with depression, anxiety, increased stress, and other serious mental health related issues caused by the worry of late payments, according to research commissioned by The Prompt Payment Directory (PPD).

The survey polled 1,000 UK small to mid-sized company owners who all suffer from poor cashflow due to late or outstanding invoice payments.

More than a third (34%) regularly lose sleep over poor cash flow caused by clients paying late and 7% even claim to have lost their hair because of the anxiety, the PPD revealed.

Nearly a quarter (21%) struggle to pay their mortgage or rent or have been forced to sell the family home. The consequence of these late payment pressures is also destroying people’s marriage, family, and social lives.

The amount of time SMEs are kept waiting beyond their previously agreed payment terms is a big issue. Almost a third of companies face delays of at least a month beyond their terms and nearly 20% are having to wait more than 60 days before being paid.

UK businesses with turnovers of under £1million wait an average of 72 days for payment of invoices, according to the Asset Based Finance Association, the body representing the asset based finance industry in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. By comparison, businesses with an annual turnover of between £1 million and £10 million wait about 53 days and businesses with £500 million-plus turnovers wait about 47 days.

Solutions

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to protect your company from the worst effects of late payments and to ensure you are paid promptly in future.

Research prospective clients

Before accepting a new client, carry out a credit check and find out if the company has a reputation for paying on time.

Agree prompt payment terms

Get clients to sign a contract or agree to terms and conditions that specify when they must pay your invoice and late or overdue fees. Include your payment terms on every invoice.

Send invoices promptly

Don’t delay in sending out invoices. Check that the details are correct to avoid delays.

Offer a range of payment options

Make it easy for customers to pay you by offering them a variety of payment options such as Direct Debit, PayPal, and credit card. If your clients are based in a different country, accept payment in their currency.

Use invoice finance

Invoice finance will give you essential working capital (90% of the approved total invoice) while you wait for the outstanding invoice to be paid. You’ll receive the remaining 10% when your client pays your invoice.

Use an invoice tracker system

You’ll receive an alert when invoices are overdue.

Keep to a schedule

Invoice on the same date every month so that your clients known when to expect your invoices.

Set up internal invoice reviews

Hold regular weekly or monthly internal finance meetings to review your invoices.

Don’t back down

If you have late fees for overdue invoices then make sure you follow through and charge them. By law, you can claim interest and debt recovery costs if another business is late paying for goods or a service.

If you haven’t already agreed when the money will be paid, the law says the payment is late after 30 days for public authorities and business transactions after either:

  • the customer gets the invoice
  • you deliver the goods or provide the service (if this is later)

You can agree a longer period for payments from one business to another—but if it’s longer than 60 days it must be fair to both businesses.

Hire a part-time CFO

For a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO, the CFO Centre will provide you with a highly experienced senior CFO. Your part-time CFO will assess your company’s cash flow position and take the following steps:

  • Identify and address all the immediate threats to your business. It might involve chasing late paying customers, using invoice financing to give the business an immediate cash injection, or arranging short-term loans or overdraft facilities with your bank.
  • Determine where improvements and savings can be made.
  • Instigate the use of regular cash flow forecasts. This way you’ll know in advance if your company is going to face a cash shortfall and can make arrangements for extra borrowing, or take other action.

End your late payment and cash flow problems now by calling the CFO Centre today. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, call +852 3059 2506 or just click here.

Rallying call for all seasoned CFOs in Greater China to embrace a portfolio lifestyle and be part of our team

Leaving lucrative and secure C-suite positions mid-career to build a part-time portfolio might seem crazy but many of those who’ve done it say it is one of the sanest decisions they’ve made.

Take Michael Citroen, who at 58 years old is a 14-year veteran of the part-time portfolio job world. The former Group Finance Director (FD) relishes the challenge and excitement of working with half a dozen SMEs in his role as a part-time FD. “It’s nice going into different businesses and meeting different people and having different challenges to deal with. There’s so much more variety every day.”

He particularly likes that the businesses he deals with are all at different stages of growth. Some are very new, others are more established, and a couple have been guided through a sale with his help.

Citroen had been working full-time as the Group FD of a large privately-owned company when he made the decision to go freelance.

“It was getting very political,” he recalls of his former company. “And I also wanted to be in control of my own diary,” he says.

So, in 2003, he resigned and joined FD UK, a company that offered part-time FDs to SMEs. When that company was bought out by the FD Centre five years later, Citroen stayed on and is still working with them today—part of an expanding international network of part-time portfolio FDs.

“That’s another great aspect of working within a network of part-time FDs: there’s massive backup. If there’s anything you need to know, you just ask the network, and you’ll get answers back really fast. I wouldn’t have that if I was working alone.”

Besides the enjoyment of working flexibly with entrepreneurs and with other part-time FDs, Citroen says he values the security that being a part-time FD with half a dozen clients brings.

“You don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” he says, explaining that if one client leaves he knows he can attract and retain another, so his income isn’t at risk.

“The FD Centre is very focused on helping its part-time FDs to win new clients,” Citroen says. “I could never have done as well as I have if I’d had to do it on my own. I had no idea about marketing and the technical aspect of things like websites when I first began.”

Like many people starting out on the part-time path, Citroen had been worried about giving up a salary with perks initially. “To begin with it was a little insecure, giving up a regular job.”

He quickly discovered that the financial return you get is contingent on the amount of energy you’re willing to expend.

He realised early on the new lifestyle would enable him to spend more time with family whilst maintaining a good level of income.

“It gave me time to be with them without having to answer to anybody.”

It’s something that another part-time FD Neil Methold has appreciated about this way of working. Being a part-time FD for the past six years has meant he’s been able to play a large role in his teenage son’s life: getting him settled into senior school and being able to attend almost every one of his sporting events.

“If I’d been working full-time I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And that’s priceless,” says 53-year-old Methold.

Like Citroen, Methold has found the move into the part-time portfolio world beneficial in so many ways. Not only has he been able to enjoy more family and leisure time but he’s had the pleasure of coaching and mentoring people working within his clients’ companies.

“My greatest satisfaction comes from coaching and mentoring people within these companies so they become self-sufficient and can do more and more of the work themselves.

“Nowadays I say to clients ‘My success here will be inversely proportionate to the number of days I charge you. In other words, the more I can get your people to do the work on a daily basis the less I have to do’. I see it as my responsibility to ensure the work is done, not necessarily to do it all myself. I think that has a significant impact on client retention.”

So too does learning to adapt your style of working to each client, says Methold. It wasn’t something he was aware of when he first started out, he confesses.

“But one day, I was mowing the lawn and thinking it all through in my head. That’s when I realised I was being too harsh, too demanding, too assertive, too telling. You have to be direct in a big company because there are shareholders and high expectations.

“But that doesn’t work with SMEs. You have to use a different style—you have to be softer and more accepting that things don’t necessarily move as quickly as they do at large corporations and that there are going to be different priorities.”

It was when he began to adapt his style of working to suit each client rather than going in “full guns blazing” that he started to enjoy much better relationships. It’s why he has retained his clients for so long, he says.

“You can’t go in and be all corporate. SMEs don’t want that. They want someone they can trust and rely on and build a good relationship with. A friendly face. Not just a very clever big shot. You need to be down to earth and be (remove ‘be’) people-focused.

“When I really accepted that and started to slow down my own pace I become more accepted. You have to adjust and be a bit of a chameleon to suit how they are and not how you think they should be.”

Citroen says the ability to communicate is critical in your role as a part-time FD. “You have to have the ability to talk to your clients on a personal level and to be able to relax with them. Clients will call you late at night or on a weekend because they’ve had an idea they’re excited about and want to share with you. People who can’t handle that aren’t successful as part-time FDs.”

Both he and Methold agree that time management is key to success in the part-time portfolio environment.

“Although I’m not in contact with my clients every day, I do keep in touch with them every week, whether it’s a phone call, text or email,” says Citroen. “It’s all part of the relationship I have with my clients.”

Successful part-time FDs need to take the initiative when it comes to client contact, says Methold. “You have to work really hard at proactive communication with your clients. It’s easy then for them to see you are valuable. I will go to see a client, and on the way home have three 20-minute conversations with three other clients who I haven’t been with that day just to keep moving them forward.

“You have to commit to doing that extra stuff. You can’t just go in for a day, leave and send a bill.”

This obviously takes a lot of organisation, and that’s another skill a successful part-time FD must have (or develop!), he says.

“I have various lists, so I know what I have to do and at what point each week to make sure I don’t drop any balls because when you have lots of clients doing different things, it’s very easy to forget stuff.

“You need to be aware of what’s happening with each client and what you last spoke about. You can’t go, ‘Ah, can’t remember that last meeting. Sorry.’ When they are talking to you, you are their FD.”

Being willing to deliver such high-quality service is something that makes a difference when it comes to client retention, he says.

“Clients really do value that you put yourself out to ring them at the weekend or speak to them late at night or when you’re on your holiday. That s when you and the clients really do start to cement the relationship.”

The relationships you have with clients is what helps to make this such a rewarding way of life, he says.

Citroen agrees, adding that working full-time for one company pales in comparison with working part-time across a number of growing businesses. “The job satisfaction you get working as a part-time FD is enormous. I would definitely never go back to full-time employment.”

If you would like to find out more simply follow this link: http://www.cfocentre.com.hk/join-the-team/

A True Toy Story: LEGO’s Incredible Turnaround Tale

The story of how LEGO, the family-owned toy company went from teetering on the brink of disaster and haemorrhaging cash to delivering the highest revenues in its entire history and being voted the 2017 Most Powerful Brand in the World makes for a truly inspirational tale…

Fourteen years ago, LEGO’s Head of Strategic Development Jørgen Vig Knudstorp delivered the kind of assessment that most managers would gladly superglue their own ears shut to avoid hearing.

“We are on a burning platform, losing money with negative cash flow and a real risk of debt default which could lead to a break-up of the company,” warned Knudstorp at that meeting.

He’d discovered during six months of examining the company that there was a lack of profitable innovation, according to David C. Robertson, author of ‘Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry’.

“LEGO had plumped up its top line, but its bottom line had grown anorexic. All the creativity of the previous few years had generated a wealth of new products, but only a few were actually making money,” wrote Robertson. “To make matters worse, the LEGO Group’s management organisation and systems, shaped by decades of success, were poorly equipped to handle a downturn.”

The company’s management team—twelve senior vice presidents who oversaw six market regions as well as such traditional functions as the direct-to-consumer business and the global supply chain—didn’t collaborate but instead operated in their own silos.

The result was that the LEGO Group was expected to suffer a thirty percent fall in sales with £193 million in operating costs. It had a negative cash flow of more than £124 million.

By the end of the year, it was likely to default on its outstanding debt of nearly £620 million. Its net losses were likely to double the following year.

Knudstorp’s stark assessment should have come as no surprise. Something was going badly wrong at LEGO HQ Denmark: in the years from 1932 through to 1998, the company had never made a loss but from then on, the losses had increased year by year. First there had been a little loss in 1998 but by 2003—the year of Knudstorp’s no-holds barred assessment—that had grown to something deeply worrying.

Much worse results followed a year later when the company recorded its biggest ever loss of about £217 million. By then, Knudstorp had been appointed CEO.

“In 2003, we pretty much lost thirty percent of our turnover in one year,” he told Diana Milne in ‘Business Management Magazine’.

In 2004, the company had a further ten percent fall in turnover. “So, one year into the job, the company had lost forty percent of its sales. We were producing record losses and cash flows were negative. My job was how to stop the bleeding.

“We had to stabilise sales and cut costs dramatically to deal with the new reality of selling forty percent less than we had done two years earlier. We had too much capacity, too much stock. It was sitting in the wrong countries. The retailers were very unhappy.”

Knudstorp, a former McKinsey analyst, told James Delingpole of the ‘Daily Mail’, “We had a dress rehearsal of the world financial crisis: a strong decline in sales and a massive increase in our indebtedness.”

The losses were partly a result of the company’s attempt to diversify in the late 1990s, in the belief its brightly coloured building bricks were losing appeal and were under threat from computer games and the internet.

It was coming under pressure from other toy manufacturers since the last of its plastic toy brick design patents had run out in 1988 and the monopoly it had enjoyed for so long in the plastic toy brick market had begun to erode.

LEGO’s diversification saw it expand the number of theme parks it owned in a bid to help increase visibility of the LEGO brand across key markets. This was despite it having little hospitality experience. Unfortunately, these capital-intensive developments didn’t provide anywhere near the expected returns.

And the company had dramatically expanded the number of products in its portfolio, according to the ‘Brick By Brick’ author. In the years 1994 through to 1998, it had tripled the number of new toys it produced.

“In theory that was a good thing: experimentation is the prelude to real progress,” wrote Robertson. … “Problem was, the LEGO Group’s once-famous discipline eroded as quickly as its products proliferated.

“Production costs soared but sales plateaued, increasing by a measly five percent over four years,” Robertson said.

The company had little idea which products were making money and which were failing to produce an adequate return on the sometimes-heavy tooling investment, according to a case study from John Ashcroft and Company.

LEGO had even created its own lifestyle clothing range and brand shops and launched its own TV series, DVDs and video games.

So, by the time Knudstorp delivered his assessment, the company was in serious trouble.

The Turnaround Begins…

Which is why with the help of Finance Director, Jesper Oveson (former Chief Financial Officer of one of the largest banks in Scandinavia, the Danske Bank), Knudstorp began to make sweeping changes.

Oveson discovered there was an inadequate degree of financial analysis within the company. While there was a profit and loss account by country, there wasn’t product analysis or line profitability, according to John Ashcroft and Company. In other words, the company didn’t know where they made or lost money. Likewise, the theme parks were a massive cash drain but no-one knew why.

The two men decided on a short-term life-saving action plan rather than a long-term strategy for LEGO, which would involve managing the business for cash rather than sales growth. Key moves included:

  • Setting financial targets. Ovesen introduced a near-term, measurable goal of 13.5% return on sales benchmark and established a financial tracking system—the Consumer Product Profitability system. It measured the return on sales of individual products and markets so the company could track where it was making and losing money. Every existing or proposed product had to demonstrate it could meet or surpass that benchmark.
  • Cost-cutting (including cutting 1,000 jobs)
  • Improving processes (many processes were outsourced which meant employee numbers could be cut by another 3,500)
  • Managing cash flow
  • Introducing performance-related pay
  • Reducing the product-to-market time.
  • Selling the theme parks and slowing retail expansion.
  • Cutting the number of components from almost 7,000 down to about 3,000.

The result of these and other changes was that LEGO recovered and went on to become the most profitable and fastest-growing toy company in the world. During the worst of the recession in the years 2007 through to 2011, for example, LEGO’s pre-tax profits quadrupled. Its profits grew faster than Apple’s in the years 2008 through to 2010.

LEGO the Super-Brand

LEGO’s success has continued. Earlier this year, LEGO (now being run by Bali Padda as Knudstorp has moved into a role where he can expand the brand globally) announced its highest ever revenue in the company’s 85-year history.

And it overtook Ferrari and Apple to be voted the world’s most powerful brand. Each year, Brand Finance, a leading brand valuation and strategy consultancy, puts thousands of the top brands around the globe to the test to find the most powerful and most valuable of them all. This year, LEGO won.

“LEGO is the world’s most powerful brand,” it announced. “It scores highly on a wide variety of measures on Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index such as familiarity, loyalty, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation.”

Its appeal to children and adults in this tech-centred world also garnered praise from Brand Finance.

It continued, “The LEGO movie perfectly captured this cross-generational appeal. It was a critical and commercial success, taking nearly $500 million [£338 million] since its release a year ago. It has helped propel LEGO from a well-loved, strong brand to the worlds most powerful.”

Which goes to show that even when disaster seems certain, it is possible to revive an ailing company. Of course, it helps to have a top-level financial advisor working with you to ensure the changes you’re making are the right ones.

What To Do If Your Company Is Suffering A Cash Flow Crisis

If your company is in dire straits, take action now—don’t imagine you can wish the crisis away or continue to do whatever you’ve been doing in the hope things will get better. They won’t.

Until you identify and fix your cash flow problems then put systems in place for managing cash flow, your company is at a very grave risk of insolvency.

Without well-defined and well-managed strategies to avoid running into cash flow problems and a plan to improve cash flow if such problems should arise, your company will continue to flounder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. The CFO Centre will provide you with a highly experienced part-time CFO with ‘big business experience’ for a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO.

He or she will assess your company’s cash flow position and take the following steps:

Identify and address all the immediate threats to your business

Prevent cash flow problems from recurring and

Instigate the use of regular cash flow forecasts.

Having control of your company’s cash flow will allow you to operate within your means, and move away from a ‘feast and famine’ situation that plagues even the largest companies.

Having the right cash flow management processes in place and being able to spot peaks and troughs in trading to improve cash flow is one of the most critical components of any finance function.

Put an end to your cash flow problems now by calling the CFO Centre today. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, just click here.

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