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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dyson Vacuum Cleaners

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

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

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

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

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

Using Failure To Grow Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Why Don’t Companies Embrace Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also arrange a complementary 1:1 Finance Breakthrough Session with one of Hong Kong’s top CFOs here

The Spies Inside Your Company

Hear the words ‘corporate espionage’ and you might think it’s only something that corporate giants need to worry about.

But that’s not the case, corporate espionage is something that can affect companies of any size. Despite what you might believe, the threat is highly likely to come from within your organisation.

The corporate spy could be a dissatisfied or disgruntled employee, a manager, or a supplier, according to Rick Orloff, CSO at Code 42, a leading provider of cloud-based endpoint data security and recovery.

Case in point: an employee of Siemens, a leading European manufacturer, was arrested in the Netherlands last month on suspicion of leaking patents and other company secrets to a Chinese competitor, according to Reuters news agency.

“Individuals can easily syphon off sensitive corporate information and pass it to unauthorised third-parties,” writes Orloff in Info Security magazine. “Systems can also be infiltrated by those that wish to do your business harm or gain a competitive advantage from your data.”

It’s a huge mistake to assume you only need to protect your company from cyber-attacks, according to Bruce Wimmer, G4S’s Senior Director and Leader of Counter Business Espionage.

He warns that business spying that doesn’t involve cyber intrusion is on the rise and is one of the greatest security risks to businesses, dwarfing the threat from cyber-attacks.

G4S’s corporate risk service division estimates the cost is as high as $1.1 trillion annually. By comparison, the impact of business-critical data being stolen remotely is estimated to be $400bn a year, G4S estimates.

“Many businesses consider the threat of a cyber-attack to be their biggest security concern and at their peril they ignore the threat of data loss where corporate spies uncover serious shortcomings in physical security arrangements,” says Wimmer.

“Disgruntled employees, competitors, foreign governments, and suppliers can act as an insider threat, over short and long periods of time, with little chance of detection if the business is only focusing on external cyber threats.”

The corporate spy will home in on weaknesses, knowledge gaps and human frailty and there’s little point in monitoring systems if your company doesn’t also monitor the people who can access them.

“While a cyber-attack can bring down a company’s systems or access confidential information, there are many more ways that competitors or other corporate spies can attack a business,” warns Wimmer.

Worse, these methods can make an in-depth cyber-attack possible.

How to Protect Your Company’s Sensitive Information

Wimmer recommends doing the following:

  • Conduct a security audit of your premises. Identify and test the rights of access and rights of way for all your employees as well as service providers (cleaners, engineers, IT professionals, etc.).
  • Assess the processes you have for new employees, external suppliers and visitors. Share the information with relevant employees.
  • Instigate a Clean Desk Policy and make sure it’s always enforced.
  • Establish a process for the secure and timely disposal of sensitive printed material.
  • Introduce a policy to protect sensitive information that covers how it is shared (or not) in conversations, meetings, telephone calls and paper documents.
  • Ensure business executives who travel to meetings or conferences stay vigilant.

“Business executives are extremely vulnerable to spying when travelling,” says Wimmer.

“Travel security programmes address terror threats, criminal threats, potential political instability, even health and natural disasters, but they rarely cover business espionage threats – even though the business espionage threats almost always pose a more serious adverse business impact.”

Managing All The Threats and Risks To Your Business

Of course, corporate espionage is just one of the security risks your company might face. Besides security risks, there are risks involving finance, legal and regulatory compliance, operations, reputation, service delivery, commerce, internal and outsourced projects, safety, stakeholder management, strategy, and technology.

It’s no wonder that business owners and CEOs get overwhelmed when it comes to managing risk. Fortunately, we can help. The CFO Centre will provide you with a highly experienced senior part-time CFO with ‘big business experience’ who will work with you to understand the risk profile of your business and of the shareholders.

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

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

We have an intimate understanding of every conceivable risk growing businesses face.

This means that we can help you build a much stronger business by knowing how to navigate through the growth stages of the business cycle confident that you are equipped to meet the challenges as they present themselves.

Lower Your Risk Today

Let one of the CFO Centre’s part-time CFOs help you with business risk analysis. You can download a free report on Business Risk Assessment here or you can book a free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs—just call us now on +852 3059 2506 or go to: www.cfocentre.com.hk/financebreakthroughsession/

Why Entrepreneurs’ Dream of Hypergrowth Fast Becomes A Nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twelve Days of Christmas with your Part-Time CFO

On the first day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy. 

On the second day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the third day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the way to keep cash flowing, the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the way to keep my bank happy, the way to keep cash flowing, the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me a great exit strategy, the way to keep my bank happy, the way to keep cash flowing, the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me the benefit of business planning, a great exit strategy, the way to keep my bank happy, the way to keep cash flowing, the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my part-time CFO gave to me a way to stop fiddlers fiddling and protect my equity, the benefit of business planning, a great exit strategy, the way to keep my bank happy, the way to keep cash flowing, the way to do business legally, better ways of business processing, the key to productivity, ways of doubling profitability, the secret of lowering my tax liability, more ways to attract money, an introduction to business reporting and advice on creating a business strategy.

And in the spirit of Christmas, you can discover all that I learnt by downloading these 12 free business growth reports—jam-packed with practical ideas and information for every SME owner.

Business Reporting:

  • The three key financial statements you need and why they are so important
  • How to interpret your key financial statements and use the information to drive growth
  • How to reach a place where you actually enjoy reviewing your financial statements!

Strategic Funding report:

  • The main sources of funding available to SMEs (including advantages and disadvantages of each one)
  • New funding sources which make funding available in days or weeks rather than in months or years from the application date
  • How to get independent specialist advice to walk you through the process and present your case for the best chance of success.

Tax Planning report:

  • The benefits of ensuring your business is optimised for tax
  • The importance of using the best tax advisors
  • The importance of using the best legal advisors.

Profit Improvement report:

  • Why you need a clear, measurable strategy for increasing your profit
  • The four ways to increase your profit: sell more, get customers to buy more frequently, increase prices and reduce costs
  • The main reasons for low profits and how to avoid being unprofitable.

Outsourcing report:

  • How to access expertise that you would otherwise not be able to afford
  • How to source talent to focus on important priority areas in your business
  • How to increase efficiency and productivity across all areas of your business.

Internal Systems report:

  • How to create systems and get fully in control of your business
  • How systems and internal controls create more headspace for the senior team
  • The benefits of great systems and internal controls for making your business more efficient and more valuable.

Compliance report:

  • How to free up headspace and sleep better at night by devising a strategy to ensure your business is always fully compliant;
  • Why it can be disastrous for business owners who don’t have a compliance strategy;
  • How The CFO Centre can devise a strategy specific to your business, to ensure you always remain fully compliant.

Cash flow Management report:

  • Why poor cash flow is the number 1 reason businesses fail
  • How to create a cash flow management strategy to avoid running out of cash
  • How to find cash in places you may have never considered.

Banking Relationship report:

  • Why the banks lend to some businesses but not others
  • How to secure lending from your bank
  • How to secure preferential rates and better terms from your bank
  • How a part-time CFO can manage the relationship with the bank so that you don’t have to.

Exit Strategy report:

  • The things you need to do early in the process to plan your exit
  • Why ‘exit planning’ has a lot to do with ‘running a good business’
  • How to make your business attractive to potential buyers and what they are looking for
  • How to evaluate what is important to you when selling your business
  • How to maximise your sale value and increase your multiples
  • Property, Pensions, IP, Contracts, ‘The Numbers’
  • The due diligence process and how to make it much easier for yourself.

Implementation Timetable report:

  • The best way to build (or redesign) your business plan so it works as a simple but effective tool for ensuring you reach your goals
  • Key elements of a great business plan and how to decide what to include and descaled
  • How to set clear milestones for your implementation timetable
  • How to get your team aligned so that everyone is working towards a common goal.

Risk Assessment report:

  • How to sleep better at night by identifying major risks and building a strategy to avoid them
  • How business owners of great businesses manage their risk so they can free up head space and focus on creativity, innovation and growth

How a part-time CFO can conduct a full, watertight risk assessment process with you.

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