An organization’s financial strategy is critical to the health and success of the business. A well-crafted financial strategy enables an organization to optimize operations and can present additional opportunities for growth. In contrast, a poor financial plan can hinder an organization’s operations and drive even a profitable company out of business.
Despite the importance of financial planning, the process of building a robust financial plan does not have to be complicated. By following a few simple strategies, an organization can avoid many of the common pitfalls that result in a flawed financial plan and hamper the growth of the business.
Three Important Financial Strategies for 2021
1. Remember That Cash Is Still King
It is vital to remember that a company’s money (revenue) is not the same as the money that a company has been paid (cash inflow). While an organization may be profitable on paper, it could be broke in reality based upon the ratio of revenue to expenses.
Bills can only be paid with the money that a company actually has on-hand, making cash management an essential component of an organization’s financial strategy.
This includes setting the terms of contracts to ensure that they are paid promptly and taking advantage of opportunities to minimize expenses, such as the use of automation to reduce payroll expenses.
2.Keep It Simple
Overcomplicating its financial strategy is a common mistake that businesses make. To optimize its operations, an organization may break expenses into many buckets and independently monitor and analyze each.
While this is intended to increase visibility and optimize expenditures, it can end up costing an organization more money in the long term. Additional complexity and analysis require additional headcount to complete. Since payroll is typically one of a company’s largest expenses, up to 70% of the total, the potential gains made due to increased visibility and optimization are likely to be overwhelmed by the corresponding analysis cost.
A better approach to expense management is to apply the Pareto Principle: 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. Identify those few things that make up 80% of your expenses (likely payroll, marketing, and rent) and focus optimization efforts on those for maximum impact.
Financial analysis can also be simplified and optimized by the use of automation. By transitioning manual accounting processes to automated ones, an organization can achieve the same level of analysis while minimizing the associated costs.
3. Bring Management Together & Make It Meaningful
One of the most common mistakes made by founders and entrepreneurs is maintaining too tight of control over a business’s operations. By trying to do everything themselves, these leaders end up spending more time working “in” their company (day-to-day tasks, putting out fires, etc.) rather than working on their company (strategic planning, long-term goals, etc.). As a result, the company can stagnate and fail because it lacks a clear path forward.
This also applies to an organization’s financial planning. A crucial part of building a successful business is hiring competent people and handing over control of the tasks they are more fit to manage.
When developing a financial strategy, an organization’s management likely has a better view of the current state of the parts of the company under its direct control than the CEO. Asking them about their departments’ current state, their needs, and potential opportunities to decrease expenses without sacrificing revenue can provide invaluable data for crafting an organization’s financial strategy.
Preparing Your Financial Strategy for 2021
The most effective financial strategies are based upon experience. Optimizing cash flow requires knowledge of how to manage contracts best. Simplifying financial analysis requires an understanding of what is and isn’t important. Reducing expenses via automation requires the ability to select platforms that provide a tangible benefit and return on investment. Crafting a strong financial strategy requires knowing the right questions to ask subordinates and take the right actions based on their answers.
A good starting point for acquiring some of this knowledge is reading Lavoie’s Guide to Strategic Financial Planning.
This ebook provides best practices and tips for developing an effective financial strategy.
However, in many cases, there is no substitute for experience. Lavoie has over 25 years of financial planning experience and can manage your accounting for you, allowing you to focus on running and building your business.
Many CEOs don’t have a background in financial planning yet are expected to develop strategies and make decisions that dramatically impact an organization’s financial health. As a result, CEOs make several common mistakes that can dramatically impact their company’s financial health and success.
Where CEOs Go Wrong
Getting too comfortable with “how you do things.”
Past performance is not indicative of future results. While an organization’s strategies may have worked in the past, situations can evolve, forcing changes to “how you do things.” CEOs must be ready and willing to adapt, not stuck in a rut.
Denying that every decision a business makes has some financial implication
Every decision that a business makes impacts its finances. Everything that a company does affects its ability to operate in terms of additional or lost revenue, productivity, expenses, etc. If nothing else, making the decision to do one thing means that the organization likely lacks the resources to do something else. All business decisions should take into account the associated financial implications.
Making every decision in a vacuum
As the CEO, you will be called to the carpet for every choice you make, financial or otherwise, so it is vital that you justify the decisions you make. Decisions should be made based upon the best data available and incorporate the input of all stakeholders and subject matter experts. Making decisions in a vacuum increases the probability that a poor decision will be made based upon incorrect data or assumptions.
Forecasting based on what is in the bank account at that time
An organization’s current bank balance is a snapshot in time. It can change rapidly and in unexpected ways. For example, something as simple as a vendor depositing a check earlier or later than usual can result in a significant discrepancy between what an organization’s current bank balance is and what it “should” be.
For this reason, an organization’s financial strategies should not be based on projections based on a current bank balance. A range of different factors could affect this and render any projections based on it erroneous and unusable.
No visibility into what you are owed and what you have to payout
Visibility into an organization’s liabilities and receivables is essential for a CEO. For example, do you have more liabilities than what you are expecting in your receivables? You could have 600k in receivables but 800k in liability.
If this is the case, then a CEO needs to develop a strategy to decrease expenses and liability relative to receivables. However, without visibility into the current state of liabilities and receivables, a CEO is unaware of the need to change.
Ignoring investments that don’t show up on the P&L
An organization’s profit and loss (P&L) statement summarizes its revenue, costs, and expenses during a specific period. However, it is not necessarily comprehensive and should not be treated as such.
Investments that do not show up on an organization’s P&L statement should still be incorporated into its financial strategy. While they may not impact long-term revenue and expenses, they will show up in cash flow. Failing to account for them could leave an organization looking financially healthy on paper but broke in reality.
Not considering seasonality
Many businesses have seasonal ebbs and flows. Such as an increase in work for construction workers in summer and increased e-commerce sales in the months approaching Christmas.
For others, the reasons may be less obvious (such as having more sales in summer because customers have more money), but these cyclic changes will still occur and should be incorporated into a CEO’s financial strategy. For example, building up cash reserves going into a dry season may be necessary to cover expenses while waiting for sales to trend upward again.
Planning once and refusing to iterate as things change
A business’s profitability is determined by a number of internal and external factors. While the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts are a high-visibility example, businesses experience smaller changes much more frequently.
Adaptability is a critical component of an organization’s financial strategy. While the company may have certain goals and plans in place, if internal or external factors demand a change, it is essential to adapt rather than insisting on continuing with a course that isn’t working.
Avoiding Common Financial Mistakes
Understanding how financial planning can go wrong doesn’t tell you how to develop a financial strategy correctly. To learn more about this, check out Lavoie’s CEO’s Guide to Strategic Financial Planning.
Developing a strategic financial plan can seem daunting; however, it can be boiled down into two questions: what are you doing now and where do you want to be? This article walks you through the process of answering these two questions, providing a foundation for developing a financial strategy for your organization.
Question 1: What Are You Doing Now?
Every journey has a starting point and an ending point. Before you can implement a plan to achieve your financial goals, it is important to consider where you are now.
Current State of the Numbers
The current state of your organization’s numbers are a good starting point when determining your organization’s capability to meet its financial goals. Some important questions to ask include:
Are you in a position of stability? Financial stability is vital to reaching “stretch” goals. If the organization is not currently financially stable, it is important to identify this fact and develop a strategy for achieving stability as a first step in the planning process.
What is actually coming in/out the door? Knowing the size of the company’s cash reserves is not enough for financial planning. How much revenue is coming into the organization and how much is going out again as expenses?
What is fueling the majority of your expenses? While increasing sales is one way of improving the organization’s financial footing, the ability to do so depends on the market and potential customers. Identifying and minimizing expenses increases profits as well but is less impacted by external factors.
Achieving financial goals requires the support of the entire organization. Take a moment to consider your organization’s culture and if the company has the maturity and ability to meet its goals.
Do your decisions match your vision and mission? An organization’s goals and procedures are important, but actions are even more so. Are your decisions, both recent and historical, helping to move the organization towards its goals?
Would your employees agree? Employees throughout the organization can have different perspectives, insights, and recommendations. Ask those “down in the weeds” how well the company is following its vision and mission and how they believe things could do better.
Question 2: Where Do You Want To Be?
The effectiveness of a strategic plan can only be effectively measured if there are usable metrics. Before starting to build a plan to improve the organization’s financial position, it is necessary to define success and failure.
The first step in defining “success” for a financial strategy is defining concrete targets. From there, the next question to ask is what do you need to achieve your targets?
Human Capital. Does your organization have the human capital necessary to achieve its goals? This not only includes headcount but access to the specific skill sets required now and in the future.
Acquisitions. Does your organization have the capabilities that it requires? Are there areas of your business where things could be done more effectively or efficiently?
IT Investments. The IT landscape is evolving rapidly, and new solutions have the potential to dramatically improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. Are there any IT investments that the organization should make that would help in reaching its targets?
A failure to properly monitor and manage expenses is one of the most common ways that businesses fail to achieve their financial goals. Gaining visibility into past, present, and future expenditures is an essential part of financial planning.
How can you gain more visibility into your expenditures? Visibility into expenditures is essential to identifying opportunities for optimizations and cost cutting. How can you achieve a higher level of visibility into business operations?
Do you have an idea of your cash flow on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? What level of visibility do you currently have into your organization’s cash flows? Examining cash flows at the daily, weekly, and monthly level can help to identify potential inefficiencies and opportunities.
Beginning Your Strategic Financial Plan
Answering the questions that were asked in this article enables you to lay the groundwork for developing your organization’s financial strategy. To learn about the next steps in your financial planning process, download the CEO’s Guide to Strategic Financial Planning.
Lavoie secured Kelley Michalski as Partner and Vice President of Operations. Lavoie is excited to welcome Kelley Michalski to our team as our new Partner and Vice President of Operations in Charlotte, NC. In this role, Michalski will be responsible for managing client operations, maintaining internal control structures, and providing strategic support to our clients and organizations. As Lavoie continues to grow exponentially year over year, Michalski’s leadership will be an invaluable asset in reaching our goals.
“I am truly looking forward to being a part of an established market leader in the finance field,” said Michalski. “I’m excited to become a contributor to the growth of Lavoie.”
Michalski brings with her over 20 years of experience leading strategic financial planning and implementation. Her wide breadth of practice includes everything from overseeing financial performance and organizational governance to managing risk and compliance. She has excelled in creating sustainable, data-driven financial strategies by developing a foundation of analytics to fuel tactical and long-term business decisions. Michalski’s leadership and expertise will be valuable additions to the Lavoie team.
“We are delighted to have Kelley become a Partner with the company. Through Kelley’s involvement with our team over the years, she has shown herself to be an exceptional leader in the industry,” said Sharai Lavoie, Lavoie’s CEO/Managing Member.
Prior to joining Lavoie, Michalski was the Chief Financial Officer for a subsidiary of a Fortune 15 organization and the owner of a small business located in Charlotte. A graduate of Iowa State University, Michalski brings with her an entrepreneurial mindset to support organizations of all sizes.
About Lavoie: Founded in 2009, Lavoie has served as a reliable Charlotte CPA firm that specializes in strategic financial and operational planning for businesses of all sizes. By delivering state-of-the-art strategic support, Lavoie’s clients can focus on growing their business and soar to the next level of greatness. In addition to providing customized solutions for clients, Lavoie prioritizes social justice issues and is extremely involved in the local Charlotte community.
See why this award-winning Charlotte Sports & Entertainment Marketing Agency uses Lavoie CPA as their financial strategy partner
Company: Bespoke Sports & Entertainment
Specialty: Sports and entertainment consulting and experiential marketing agency
With over 50 years of combined experience in Sports & Entertainment Marketing, Bespoke’s founders, have seen their fair share of agencies come and go. They have worked with some of the largest names and most complex brands in the sports and entertainment industry. So, when they started their venture, they knew they needed more than just an accountant to supervise their financial stability. They needed a financial strategist that could confidently run major investor meetings and take control of the company’s future; and a firm that could manage expenses while also augmenting human resource needs.
Download the case study to learn how Lavoie helped the company grow year over year and work with award-winning brands.
“It’s simple, Lavoie helped us create the infrastructure we needed. From setting up accounts payable and HR policies to recommending affordable technology, Sharai Lavoie and her team were there to give us the day to day insights we needed to keep cash flowing, flexibility to focus on sales, and proactive recommendations that enabled us to scale at the right pace.”
Outsourced Accounting or Accounting as a Service (AaaS) providers can be the catalyst to take your organization to the next level. For some SMBs, accounting is not looked at as a strategic function of the organization, but it should be. It also shouldn’t take focus away from growing your core business. Lots of SMBs don’t consider Outsourcing. Here are 5 main reasons why.
1) They think it is too expensive
By using Accounting as a Service, you have access to shared service center. Providers have put a lot of investment, thought, and execution into their model and have staffed accordingly. With an AaaS provider you now have access to a full accounting department that often is less expensive than one full-time FTE. This doesn’t even figure in technology costs that come with the service.
2) It is the same as bookkeeping services
Bookkeepers are responsible for recording daily financial transactions. Controllers are responsible for financial reporting, internal audit and internal controls. CFO are responsible for financial planning, financial data analysis and strategic planning. By relying only upon a bookkeeper you are stuck looking in the past and cannot see into the future to effectively make critical decisions for your business. AaaS providers ensure daily transactions are done correctly but also greatly reduce risks and provide necessary forward-thinking strategy to help growth your business.
3) We can just do the same in-house
For most SMBs it is hard to justify the expense of having a bookkeeper, controller, VP of finance and CFO. All positions have importance. You don’t want to pay a senior level person to do daily transactions and you definitely don’t want to ask an entry level person to manage financial risks.
4) We cannot have any finance staff in-house
Often AaaS providers work with internal staff to fill voids. Yes, providers can function as the entire finance department but often work with existing staff to help maximize their production.
5) We have more control and stability by utilizing in-house staff
Employees turnover and training are always on the minds of companies. If you don’t have a defined professional develop plan for each employee, you are at risk of losing your top talent to other opportunities. By using an AaaS provider you eliminate the risk of employee turnover. You also will not miss a beat when people people are out sick, on vacation, or on leave.