Category Archives: annual planning

Getting Back to Business Basics

Getting Back to Business Basics 

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

We have collectively experienced unprecedented times. As CEOs and CFOs, we seem to be writing the playbook as we go. Over the past eighteen months, survival mode has become the norm rather than the exception, as we navigate the turbulent waters of each day. Yet, we all realize we can’t survive in survival mode for extended periods of time. In doing so, we are only looking at our immediate requirements and needs to get by, not our long-term goals and needs to thrive. 

When we operate only in the day-to-day, as survival mode requires, we tend to overlook the basics when it comes to our businesses, and specifically, our financials. But truly getting back to basics is the only way to support the long-term strategic growth of the business. And when it comes to basics, you can’t get much more fundamental than a business plan and an annual budget.  

Basics #1: The Business Plan 

You may be thinking this is Business 101 and you’re beyond it, but you’d probably be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be) at the number of businesses that do not have any business plan whatsoever. A business plan is much more than something that has to be checked off your never-ending to-do list. It not only helps you create an effective strategy for growth, but also helps you determine your future financial needs, including the need for investors and/or lenders. 

According to the SBA, the importance is clear. “A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. You’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.” 

Additionally, if you plan on seeking funding, business plans play a crucial role. “Business plans can help you get funding or bring on new business partners. Investors want to feel confident they’ll see a return on their investment. Your business plan is the tool you’ll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice.” 

In thinking about the execution of a business plan, too many owners or leaders get stalled on the format itself. However, it’s important to remember there is no right or wrong way to develop a business plan. Regardless of how many pages or the font used, the most important takeaways are that it clearly lays out your product or service, identifies your target market, and details your strategy for reaching that market, including the financial needs and requirements on both a short- and long-term basis. While this past year has shown us that we cannot fathom every possible scenario that could impact our business, developing a robust plan is one way to prepare for as many contingencies as possible and help ensure the company’s success. 

Basics #2: Annual Budget 

While twelve months from now may feel like it may as well be twelve years from now, it is imperative to have a strong annual budget. The annual budget should also be able to be broken down into months for easier monitoring. At a minimum, your annual budget should include the following:  

  1. Income Statement,  
  1. Balance Sheet, and  
  1. Cash Flow Statement.  

Most businesses are familiar enough with income statements – they can clearly see the revenue coming in and the expenses going out. This is undoubtedly important, but it does not prepare you for your working capital needs. Essentially, you need to know how much you actually require to run your business. In order to truly understand those requirements, an accurate balance sheet and cash flow statement are needed. For example, if you have inventory on your balance sheet, you will need to project the use of cash to purchase that inventory. An income statement will not help you with that.

Nearly every decision you make today can impact your cash flow tomorrow. For example, I once worked with an organization that had double-digit growth each year and was very profitable. The company was getting ready to launch a second product and had offered extended payment terms to customers on their entire order if they added the new product to their order. This may have been an impactful customer service move; however, it was quite the opposite for generating the cash flow needed to pay the vendor. No one had projected the impact this decision would have to their balance sheet and cash flow, so they were unaware that the plan they had in place was going to essentially stop incoming cash. We had to react quickly and manage cash just to meet payroll and other immediate obligations. Simply, this stressful time could have been avoided entirely if the company planned appropriately with a balance sheet and cash flow statement. 

While the responsibilities and priorities of a CEO or CFO may vary depending on the company, the need to get out of survival mode and back to business basics is the same for everyone. The common denominator of these basics is that they require you to look ahead and make forecasts on the future of your business – the very opposite of survival mode. Barker Associates has extensive experience in developing business plans and annual budgets that are appropriate for the specific business involved. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.  

Defining Your Corporate Development Strategy

Defining Your Corporate Development Strategy
How to Navigate from Where You Are to Where You Want to Go

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

Typically, when you get into your car, you have a destination. You’re going somewhere and you know how to get there (or you have your smartphone or navigation to help you along the way). You don’t get into the car and sit there wondering absentmindedly about what you should do next (put the key in the ignition, put the car into gear) or where you should go (a quick trip to the store, a commute to work, or a longer road trip to a vacation destination). Rather, you know what your next steps are to take you where you want to go.

We’ve used this analogy before in our financial literacy series, but it holds true here just as much. Running a company is very similar to driving a car. You need to know the steps you need to take to get started, where you are going, and of course, how you will get there. Without them, much like as a driver, you will soon find yourself lost. And, with a company, you not only have to worry about yourself getting lost, but all of those others (staff, clients, vendors, partners) following close behind. It’s important to navigate and lead them along the right path, or, as I like to call it, your corporate development strategy.

What is a Corporate Development Strategy?

A corporate development strategy is best described as an actionable plan for your company. There are different strategies (or routes) you can take—Stability Strategy, Expansion Strategy, or Growth Strategy, to name just a few. And while they all will take you in different directions depending on the goals you have for your company, they all have the exact same foundation—understanding your financials, both current and future projections. Without a clear understanding of your revenue, expenses, and other financial data, it would be difficult to define your strategy based on where you want to drive the company in the future. 

As you begin to define your own corporate development strategy, it’s important to put aside some common debates and confusion. Corporate strategy is not corporate finance (although it will always incorporate finance). Corporate strategy is also not business strategy. Like the distinction with finance, they are close, but distinctions abound. Business strategy deals specifically with how you are going to achieve your goals. Corporate strategy is more all-encompassing—it includes not merely your annual goals, but a clear overall strategy on where the company is going with well-researched answers to questions, such as:

  • Where do you want your business to be in terms of revenue in ten years (not three or five, as most business project)?
    • Note: This should be realistic, but not conservative.
    • What will it take each year to get there?
  • Who is in the competitive landscape?
  • How will you compete?
  • What are barriers to where you want to go?
  • Should you introduce new products/services? Should you remove any products/services?
    • If so, when? 
    • If so, should you acquire another company with experience in that space?
  • Are their potential partners or suppliers in which you can outsource some of your operations? 
  • How do you optimize productivity and profitability?
    • Do you need new technology?
    • Should you acquire a company with expertise in that technology?

Dig Deeper than a SWOT Analysis

This list in not all-inclusive, but should give you an idea of the scope of the due diligence required. Small companies often will think about some or all of these questions during an annual review (if they have one – let’s hope they do) where they dust off their white board and do a typical SWOT analysis. But a true corporate development strategy will dive much deeper than a four-section chart detailing the somewhat generic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a small business. To grow beyond a small business, there needs to be much more than the contents of four cubes on a whiteboard. 

A successful corporate development strategy may include diversification, where a company acquires or establishes a business other than that of its current product. It could also include horizontal integration, where there is a merger or acquisition of a new business, or a vertical integration, which includes the integrating of successive stages of various processes under single management.

Many, but not all, corporate development strategies focused on growth will include a merger or acquisition at some point. It’s often the best way to truly grow your business to the next level. But it always begins with a decision made as you define the right corporate development strategy for your business. 

Putting the appropriate strategy together is crucial for the long-term success of your business. If you need assistance defining your business’s future, or corporate development strategy, or have any other questions, Barker Associates can help. Please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100. 

Grow Your Financial Knowledge, Grow Your Business

This week, we continue our month-long discussion on financial literacy, including best practices to increase your financial knowledge. While there are numerous reasons business owners do not have an adequate level of financial knowledge (some people are just not good with numbers, guidance from GAAP has gotten so complicated it makes it even more difficult to understand, and business owners are just “too busy” to get into it), this knowledge is crucial to having effective conversations about your business.  

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

Can You Stand Your Financial Ground? 

If the right investor came along tomorrow, how confident are you that you are prepared with accurate historical and projected financials? Can you demonstrate thorough knowledge of your company’s financials, cash flow, burn rate, and return on investment?  Are you prepared to get drilled on each number you provide and have the ability to accurately explain where it came from? If you are not prepared, it will feel like the longest half hour of your life.  

So, how confident are you? 

If your answer is, “Not confident,” or “Somewhat confident,” it is time to make an investment in yourself. Here are a few tips to increase your financial knowledge: 

  • Prioritize your financial education. We know how busy you are, but think of it as the investment it truly is. 
  • Develop a financial advisory team. Ask these trusted individuals questions and encourage them to do the same.  
  • Make the cash flow statement your new best friend. This is the lifeblood of business and you should understand everything on it at all times. 
  • Take some basic accounting courses. It’s never been easier to take a class online. 
  • Connect with a CFO firm. Not everyone has all of the required resources at their fingertips. Allow the right CFO firm to become that resource as a trusted partner. 
  • Get a better understanding of key financial terms. We’re including some right here to help get you started. 

Terms to Help You Stand Stronger 

When an investor begins to ask about gross profit, net profit, or EBITDA, often the business owner’s face says it all – like when you’ve caught a teenager in a lie. Knowing these financial terms helps you not only have a more constructive conversation with potential bankers and investors, but also to truly have a better understanding of your business. Some of the basics (there are many more) include:  

Aged Accounts ReceivableThis is a report that categorizes a company’s accounts receivable according to how long invoices have been outstanding. This report is used as a benchmark in measuring the financial health (or lack thereof) of a company’s customers. 

Burn Rate. Burn Rate refers to how much money it takes to operate your business for a period of time (generally, a month). Knowing your burn rate helps to ensure that you have enough available cash to adequately run your business. Experts advise being able to cover your burn rate for at least six months. 

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)This refers to the total cost of all labor and materials required to provide the products or services that your customers ultimately purchase. 

Debt-Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)A ratio calculated by dividing your business’s net operating income by your debt payments. This compares cash flow to debt obligations. With the information, you can determine if you can cover debts due within one year.  

EBITDA. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. To calculate EBITA, take the gross margin and subtract total operating expenses, plus depreciation and amortization. Keep in mind the difference between EBITDA and EBIT. EBITDA subtracts all expenses, whereas EBIT subtracts everything except depreciation and amortization. 

Gross Profit Percentage or Gross MarginThis refers to the percentage of total revenue that remains after subtracting the direct costs of producing the product or service.  For example, if your company’s revenue is $400,000 in one year and your gross margin is 25%, then your gross profit is $100,000.  

Profit Margin. Profit margin is the percentage of your total revenue that you retain as profit. This metric is most often analyzed on a per unit basis. To calculate profit margin, subtract overhead expenses (along with direct costs) from your sales and then divide it by your total revenue. While it may take some time for a business to start generating profit, it is ultimately what makes it valuable … and a priority for investors. It is imperative that you are confident that your revenue you are charging for the product will cover the overall cost of the organization.  When you are in growth mode, this may not be the case – which is why the Cash Burn rate (referred to earlier) is so important. 

Working Capital. Working capital is cash plus other current assets, less current liabilities.  

Whether it’s understanding these terms (and the many others), using the tips to increase your financial knowledge, or tightening up financial reporting, successful leaders ensure these characteristics are not contained within the walls of their accounting departments, but instead, are a part of their entire company culture. With financial clarity, you can maintain stability to carry out the company’s mission. 

Simply, when you understand the financial terms and their effects on your business, it not only helps your bottom line, but also helps you have a more constructive (and potentially profitable) conversation with potential bankers and investors. 

Let Mindy Barker & Associates show you how to raise your knowledge and be prepared for that next big conversation. We can help you improve your financial brilliance and empower you with the tools and financial information you need to improve your company value, cash flow, and profitability. Schedule a 30-minute free consultation here to learn how. 

Can You Really Afford Not to Understand Your Budget?

Can You Really Afford Not to Understand Your Budget? 
Get Off the Financial Treadmill with a Budget and Move Forward 

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

Last week, we kicked off our series on increasing our financial knowledge and the tools needed to educate ourselves in observance of Financial Literacy Month. This week, we are starting with one of the basics – the process and tool without which a business could easily crumble. We’re talking about the importance not only of developing a budget, but developing your thorough understanding of the numbers behind it. At its most fundamental basis, understanding finance is, in fact, about mastering the business’s budget. Without it, there is no control over spending. And without control over spending, it is difficult (if not impossible) to plan for the future. And without a plan, how can a business reach its objectives or achieve its goals? Simply, it can’t. 

There is only so far an incredible idea, enthusiasm, and optimism can take you in business. Without a carefully prepared budget, based on accurate information, you could be out of business before you begin, whether you are the owner of a small start-up or the finance manager of a large corporation. Absent clear direction, potholes surface all around you – revenue, expenditures, cash flow, strategic goals. A well-planned budget can pave the road for a smooth ride to financial longevity and success. 

Numbers are Black and White; No Smoke and Mirrors Needed 

Have you ever been in a financial meeting with someone who is at best unprepared and at worst clueless as to what the meeting is about? I have, and it is frustrating, to say the least. This is never more apparent than when someone is attempting a smoke and mirrors show, trying to distract you from their lack of knowledge. And, all you really want to ask is, “What do the numbers say? They’re black and white! There’s no need for all the gray.”  

The issue often boils down to them either not having a budget at all, or having one with no understanding of how it came together or functions. It’s not a matter of a specific document. It’s a matter of understanding the implications of the numbers represented on that document. Absent that understanding, the person cannot communicate expectations and goals, set organizational objectives, assess or measure performance against those goals, gain insights, or allocate resources appropriately or strategically.  

So, How Exactly Can a Budget Help? 

Most people understand the essence of a budget – it is a financial plan that estimates revenue and expenses over a specified period of time, including cash flow, revenue, and expenses. But they do not understand where the numbers come from or the true benefits of understanding them.  The ability of a business owner or manager to quickly identify available capital and expenditures, and anticipate future revenue is crucial to ensuring that resources are there when needed.  

With a budget, a business can control its finances, ensure it can fund its current commitments, all well as future projects, and enable it to meet its objectives with decisions based on facts, not assumptions. Armed with this information, the owner or manager can concentrate on cash flow, reduce expenditures, and increase profits. It also allows him or her to speak to the organization’s accountant, key stakeholders, or potential investors confidently and accurately about the business’s overall financial health.

There are numerous benefits of budgeting. For example, budgets: 

  • Provide revenue and expenditure estimates. 
  • Restrict spending. 
  • Highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the business. 
  • Help set realistic expectations when planning out future years. 
  • Minimize budget to actual variances. 
  • Ensure money is allocated to appropriately support strategic objectives. 
  • Ensure that the team involved in preparing them can effectively communicate with finance and accounting professionals, key stakeholders, and investors. 
  • Help share the business’s vision with other team members. 
  • Provide a tool to measure performance, comparing it to prior time periods and anticipating future ones. 
  • Help ensure that a team has the resources needed to achieve its goals.  

Running a business without a budget is like running on a treadmill – you are always working, but not going anywhere. If that feels like you, it’s time to hop off what keeps you moving, yet remaining in one place, and actually start moving forward. Remember, the budget process should be well planned out, informed, and include all of the responsible parties. It’s not just about improving your financial knowledge of the present, but about strengthening that knowledge to predict a brighter future. If you would like to discuss your budget and how to ensure it is working efficiently for you, or if you have other specific areas of concern, please click here to schedule a 30-minute free consultation.

What is an Audit and Why do I Need One?

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

In all my years as a CPA and a CFO, I do not recall anyone (ever) who has gotten excited about a financial audit.  No one wants to pay for an audit (in money and time), prepare schedules for the auditors, or answer the millions of questions they ask. Who has time for all of that? I get it – they’re only thinking of the pain. In fact, most would likely prefer to have root canal without a pain killer rather than go through another audit. 

The sad truth though, is that most financial records are not maintained in a proper manner. And, as such, they are not ready to be audited, causing increasing frustration, and yes, increasing work. This can be the result of –  

1) Early-stage businesses trying to save money. These organizations look only at immediate cashflow and expenses, and not at the long-term needs of the organization. This limited view is very short-sided and often results in trouble down the road. Proper accounting records help you make the right decisions now. And the cost overages from a first-year audit due to the company not having the proper records can far exceed the savings incurred. 

2) Lack of acquisition integration. This requires the auditors to audit several systems, requiring extra work and time, and thereby increasing the fees. 

3) Changes in personnel. This often results in a disarray of the financial information, as there are generally issues with training new personnel and maintaining continuity in the financial process. Continuity is essential for consistency in accounting, as well as a strong foundation of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). 

4) A system conversion occurred in the current fiscal year and the historical information is not easily available to audit. 

Often, the reason any relationship does not go well is a lack of understanding and respect for the other party.  This is no different than with an audit. Once you understand the purpose of an audit and the rules and constraints under which an auditor must operate, you will be more apt to lean into the process, prepare your company more thoroughly, and have a far better experience with the audit and auditors. 

While there may be many reasons for a financial audit, they all have the same two main objectives – to answer the following questions:  

1) Are the financial statements for the period audited prepared in accordance with GAAP? 

2) Is the company a going concern and able to remain a viable business? 

Affirmative answers to these questions are keys to an organization’s financial success.  

It is important to note that the auditor cannot prepare the financials and audit them. Doing so would be a violation of the independence rules, and is unethical. Through an audit, you receive an independent fresh set of eyes looking at the financial books and process.  As a result, the auditors may:  

a. Recommend improvements in processes that save time or enhance controls, or 

b. Find potential fraud.   

After understanding the types of audits and the benefits, it is important to understand why an organization is required to have an annual financial audit. In most instances, the audit will fall under one of the following:  

1) Some lending institutions/banks require it. 

2) Some investors, private equity, or other types of investors may require it. 

3) The company is publicly traded. 

4) The company has undergone a public offering, which includes crowd-funding. 

Although financial audits are the most commonly referred to audits, you should be aware that there are other types. For example, a forensic audit is used to determine if fraud is present within an organization or under other sets of circumstances, such as a high-profile divorce. If you suspect fraud, you should request and pay for an audit of this nature, and NOT rely on a financial audit. As discussed above, detecting fraud is not one of the primary objectives of the financial audit. 

It’s a new year – time for reconciled accounts, fresh books and records, and even a fresh perspective. It’s time for the perception of audits to shift from only thinking of the work involved in preparing for them to the enormous benefits that can be uncovered from the audits themselves. In essence, it forces an organization (and its officers and directors) to stay organized and honest about its financial well-being. With this frame of mind, maybe more will choose an audit over a root canal after all. 

Do you need help preparing for an upcoming audit? If you are either preparing for a first-year audit and/or you have had some significant changes in the organization over the past year, let’s work together to set you up for success by ensuring you are prepared. Barker Associates has extensive experience working with organizations to prepare the many schedules and memos required for an audit, helping them keep the costs under control. Use this link to my calendar to choose the best time for your free 30-minute audit consultation.

Financial Topics Worth Talking About in 2020 -The Year in Review

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

There were more firsts this year than any of us care to count. Some issues, however, have been around for a very long time and aren’t going anywhere. In fact, many are more important than ever before. Financial strategies and solutions, infrastructure, investor relations, and negotiations simply do not quarantine themselves, even during a global pandemic. Rather, the pandemic forced us to be even more diligent when it comes not only to our physical health, but also to our financial health. 

Before we start crunching the numbers of 2021, we thought it was a good time to reflect back on the topics we found most crucial in 2020. Click below for some refreshers, as you prepare for the new year:  

  • Getting to Day Zero: The importance of “Day Zero” being top of mind at the beginning of each month for proactive organizations. 
  • Help Investors Spend Their Money: How the amount of money in the hands of Private Equity and Venture Capital firms substantially increased over recent years – the total money raised in 2008 was $392 billion as compared to $740 billion raised in 2019. 
  • Essential Infrastructure: The right infrastructure is critical to generate data about your business during the due diligence process with potential investors. 
  • Negotiate from a Position of Knowledge: Valuation is the value an investor would place on your company if you were to seek investment funding. Your company can be valued based on what someone will pay for it or what the market will bear. 
  • To Eat Eggs or Not – That is the Question: The varying trends of outsourcing a function within an organization, and when you should consider it. 
  • Don’t Just Hope for the Best – What Does the Data Tell You: What steps should be taken to gain a confident understanding of your business’s financial position. 
  • Times Have Changed, or Have They?: With all of the year’s changes, one thing that hasn’t changed is the core fundamentals of business. In order to survive (pre- or post-pandemic), a business must have a product or service that solves a problem and can financially make a profit. 
  • Oh No Not Again: The importance of having a clear vision and financial roadmap for your business through having the right infrastructure in place, including an Enterprise Resource Plan, CRM, General Ledger, Cash, HR System, and Payments. 
  • Stay Safe: Leaders must set priorities that have measurable results with employees, even if the employee is working from home or transitioning back to the office. 
  • Keeping Your House…and Your Books…In Order: Seven tips on how to keep your books auditable and help reduce your audit costs. 
  • Dogs will Lie, but the Numbers will Not: With the right infrastructure in place, you have the data to provide answers to the questions asked by investors (and your own Board of Directors) 
  • Could Due Diligence Impair Your Exit Strategy?: The primary factor leading to next-round challenges is the enhanced due diligence investors are performing now compared to pre-pandemic. 
  • Choosing Gratitude: Looking beyond the challenges of uncertain times and expressing gratitude.  
  • Bonding with Budgets: The three primary budget considerations for any organization. 
  • At the Intersection of Financial Infrastructure and a Global Pandemic: How a pre-pandemic shift left companies vulnerable and what to do next. 

If you have any questions about these topics or how to start your new year on the right financial foot, we can help. Let’s set up a time to talk! Use this link to my calendar to choose the best time for your free 30-minute consultation. 

Bonding with Budgets

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates


Often, when people think of budgets, images of CPAs and CFOs come to mind. They’d assume leave the numbers to those with the titles and letters following their names. However, in reality, budgets are for many more than just those with accounting backgrounds. In fact, all
individuals with any spending authority in an organization should be comfortable bonding with the organization’s budget.  
 
A budget is an invaluable tool to help individuals make well-informed decisions based on actual numbers, rather than hypotheticals. With those decisions, individuals can guide the organization strategically through each quarter and fiscal year, with a clear picture as to where the organization stands and in which direction it is heading. The budget creates a detailed road map to help navigate through expenditures and forecasts. 
 
Ultimately, there are three primary budget considerations for any organization:   
 
1) More People Involved from Inception. Each person who authorizes an expenditure in any way, whether it is signing checks, approving invoices, paying bills, or some other task affecting financials, should participate in the budget preparation process and the monthly budget review. It is critical that they are involved in the budget process from inception, or are brought up to speed as quickly as possible. Often, when I ask someone who is in charge of expenses why the budget to actual is off, they respond that they have no idea how the budget was put together in the first place. How can anyone expect these individuals to properly manage expenses when they are unaware of the principles behind them? This is easily solved when the individual is involved from the beginning. 
 
2) Alignment of Budget and General Ledger. The budget line items and categories should be identical to those in the general ledger. Accounting and finance teams need to focus on analyzing differences at month-end, not inputting, exporting, and manipulating data merely to get it to the point where they can analyze it. It should all be organized in the same way from the start.  For example, a property and casualty insurance company may have their general ledger categorized by type of customer, while their budget is categorized by their annual statement (the document each insurance company is required to file with the state of domicile). Varying methods of organization requires increased allocation comparing the actual results with the budget, resulting in misspent time and resources. To make matters worse, through this time-consuming process, an organization lacks the critical information needed to pivot at a time of crisis. For example, when a country’s entire economy shuts down due to a global pandemic.  
 
3) Accounting Alignment. The accounting in the budget analysis and the general ledger should be the same by department. One common issue occurs with payroll. Oftentimes, payroll is run every two weeks and recorded on a cash basis in the general ledger, but on an accrual basis in the budget. For example, if an employee gets paid $120,000 per year, the budget would allocate $10,000 per month for payroll, while the general ledger would show $9,230 for two payroll months and $13,846 for three payroll months. It would never match. When budget to acutal analysis is presented to the management of the organization, there should not be time for an explanation of the accounting differences in the budget and actual. Rather, the conversation should be 100% focused on maintaining alignment with the strategic goals that were established when initially creating the budget. 
 
Other benefits of proper budget management include, empowering more employees to make better decisions for the organization, saving money over time, curbing spending, and increasing preparedness. Additionally, when the budget process is carried out properly, it can reduce fraud. Once the person authorizing the expenditure understands that someone will be carefully analyzing the details for which they are responsible, they will be less likely to steal from the organization. 
 
While many people would rather push off the numbers, columns, and formulas of the budget process to someone else, it’s really the last thing they should do. In fact, when they are involved in the process, they will understand all of the components and essential information on a more comprehensive level. In doing so, they not only create a stronger bond with the budget, but also create a stronger bond to the organization itself.  
 
If you would like to discuss your budget and how to ensure it is working efficiently for you, or if you have other specific areas of concern, please click here to schedule a 30-minute free consultation. 

Getting to Day Zero

Companies are going through year-end financial reporting. Just for fun, at cocktail parties and networking lunches, I ask executives and investors if they get the year-end results as quickly as they would like to get them. My unofficial survey says that most stakeholders are not receiving results timely.

Proactive organizations have “Day Zero” at the top of mind at the beginning of the month. If you don’t know what this means in terms of proactively managing your financial strategy, read on…

The truth is that almost every single employee in an organization can impact the ability of the accounting department to close timely, yet the company accountant may not be the best source to drive home that truth. The message from the top should convey respect for each professional’s time and support for more efficient month-end and year-end processes – where everyone focuses on funneling information in a manner to close the records effectively. The ultimate goal is to provide to the management team a Flash Report as soon as possible following month-end, followed by the official month end financials.

Day Zero refers to tasks your accounting and finance departments can complete prior to the end of the month to speed up the month end close. Decisions about the company require timely, accurate data – a smooth and timely month-end is vital.

Some “green eyeshade” accountants may balk at the idea that they can shorten the month-end process; however, the strategic finance professional digs into their process to find and tackle these tasks, as well as improving their process going forward. 

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates Getting to Day Zero

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Recording depreciation,
  • Making standard monthly entries for amortization of intangibles, and
  • Recording accruals of expense.

Once you have identified the pre-close tasks, create a Day Zero checklist with deadlines for each item. The finance manager should oversee that deadlines are being consistently met and if not, get to the root of the problem to correct the process. One solution may involve asking other departments to turn in their information based on a schedule you provide in advance.

Refining your month-end close process is an iterative process if you continually raise the bar to identify better ways to execute. Automating reconciliation and other process improvements contribute to shortening the cycle.

Document your processes with Standard Operating Procedures so that all team members have steps to follow should any one team member need backup. Keep your SOPs up-to-date through periodic review.

Spend time in the middle of the month following the month-end process to complete your review of the entire process. Engage your finance team and uncover those Day Zero tasks you can incorporate into your process. Everyone in the organization will benefit when leaders have more timely and accurate information with which to make decisions.

If you are disciplined and implement Day Zero and other month-end processes, you can provide a Flash Report of results to management as soon as Day 1 after month-end.

Barker Associates can facilitate a review of month-end processes with your team to ensure you have uncovered all the possible streamlining opportunities. Provide the best customer service to your management team possible – provide financial information and think strategically and become part of positive initiatives to move the entity forward and not the green-eyeshade accounting department about which everyone complains.

Leave Behind What is Not Working

Yesterday, as I was walking back to my car after a great networking lunch, I almost tripped over a pair of shoes left behind in the parking lot. They were probably part of a strategy to look fashionable and fabulous. Most of us can take a closer look and determine why they may not have been working from a practical sense and just had to be left behind.

Leave Behind What is Not Working
Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

From a practical perspective in business, some tools, processes, and even people have to be left behind. Leaders tend to get attached to all three at different stages of their careers and different stages as leaders. Financial systems are not typically customer-facing, being pushed to the bottom of the list of systems to upgrade. In addition, most Chief Financial Officers and Controllers do not have the level of Emotional Intelligence and skills required to stress the importance of the new system.

It makes sense, both financially and practically, that software vendors can only support a limited number of versions of their products.  Eventually, you receive notice that support for your outdated version of their system will cease.

When you finally decide to upgrade your system, consider my recent experience. I learned that it is impossible to migrate data from certain older systems to the newest version without upgrading it through each version of the system – some of which are no longer for sale. I was able to locate a CPA who had all the previous systems, and the client had to pay them to move the data through the updating process. 

Do you want your valuable accountants struggling to operate your business with an outdated system? Good accountants are in high demand, receiving multiple calls from recruiters who are offering them opportunities to work for more money in up-to-date software environments. They can walk out of your office today and have a job tomorrow.  Do you want them dealing with the 10th system crash that week, or trying to get a mega Excel sheet to balance because they can’t use the old software to get the correct financial data for decision-making? When the recruiter calls them it is highly likely your accountant will be in the mindset to listen to what the recruiter has to offer. Turnover in the accounting department will cost you a minimum of $15,000.

You must have the right financial system to report the right financial data to make informed and effective decisions about strategy. If you are selling multiple products or services without clear financial information, you might as well be driving blindfolded down the highway at 100 mph.

The moral of my story is that old systems are not serving your company or your employees well.  You must invest in upgrades appropriate to the stage and size of your company, or you are putting your business at risk.

Do the right thing, leave what is not working behind. Leave behind the old system, just like the owner of these shoes left them behind – because they were not working.

Barker Associates helps our clients evaluate their current financial systems to determine if it’s time to upgrade or replace, and we are happy to help you, too.

The 1st Year Audit – Master the Mystery

Does the word audit make your pulse race and put your antiperspirant to the test? Is your monthly financial review fraught with the same level of fear that a trip through the Halloween Hall of Terror brings? If you are a growing company and are required to go through your first audit, it can be scary. The fear of the unknown, worried what may jump out at you as you dig deep to tie out a balance can create real panic.

Rather than sweating bullets and launching into panic mode, think of an audit as your annual wellness check-up and not an attempt to incite fright. If you eat right, exercise and take care of yourself your check-up typically is not cause for concern; but if you’ve consumed one too many lattes or value meals and ignored what you should be doing, the scale and your doc will remind you to pull it together and get back on track for a clean bill of health.

The 1st Year Audit – Master the Mystery
Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

An audit is very similar, but instead of your doctor, it’s your CPA telling you to get your business organized and your financial health on track for a clean opinion on your audit. An audit is beneficial in many ways, but essentially an audit provides peace of mind that your financial statements paint an accurate picture according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This assurance is vital if you are growing and need funding or if the funding you currently receive has compliance requirements.

An audit is important, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as looking into a funhouse mirror. Follow this 5-step process, before your audit begins, it’s like having the answers to the test and will provide you with the clarity needed to minimize anxiety and help you master the mystery behind the first-year audit.

1. Communicate with your CPA.

Your CPA is hired to help you and is not out to get you. Have them set the stage for what you should expect during the audit. Ask them what documents you will need to provide and what tasks you should complete before the audit begins. Talk about the timeline, when will it start, how long will it take? Who will be the primary contact to ask questions and submit documentation? A little fact gathering on the front end will go a long way to help the audit process move along seamlessly.

2. Map out a project plan

Take the information provided during your initial meeting with the audit firm and identify the tasks that need to you will need to complete. Assign the appropriate person to the task and determine a deliverable date. Work with your team to ensure that tasks are appropriately assigned and document any dependencies and concerns that may interfere with the deliverable date.

3. Communicate with your team and launch the project

Project kick-off is essential. A proper kick-off demonstrates leadership supports and identifies the objectives to accomplish as well as risks, assumptions, dependencies, and timeline. Many of the teammates that are responsible for supporting the audit are completely busy doing their “day job” and don’t have a ton of extra time. Communication upfront with clear requirements, expectations, and deadlines will help them to plan appropriately to coordinate the additional work into their schedule so they can work much more effectively.

Clarity is the antidote to anxiety. Effective leaders are clear.

-Marcus Buckingham

4. Get Organized

One of the most frustrating aspects of an audit is related to cost increases. Additional costs arise because the audit team has to do extra work to clean up your mess. Many times, clients can avoid costly increases to their audit bill by ensuring they have all their documents in order. For instance, are your accounts reconciled? Do you have supporting documentation for revenue and payments? What about lease schedules, do the payments tie out and do you have addendums and invoices to support lease and CAM payments? Does your trial balance tie out, and is your general ledger mapped appropriately to your financial statements, including the statement of cash flow? Get organized, make sure your accounts tick and tie and have the appropriate documentation on hand.

5. Review your progress

Schedule regular touchpoints to communicate progress. Think agile. In the IT world during implementation, the team meets for 15 mins each day to give a quick overview of the task they need to complete, progress, and concerns. Short, frequent meetings allow the team to stay in synch, mitigate risks, and provide support along the way. If you know how everyone is progressing, there are fewer surprises, and likely you can head off any significant delays or concerns.

Invest the time to follow the steps. As a former auditor, I’ve come to learn that prepared clients are collaborative, not combative. Their team is happier, well informed, productive, and the result is peace of mind and financial clarity. A little communication, structure, and organization go a long way to help you and your team manage the process and stay on task, bringing you one step closer to a clean bill of health for your business.

Do you need help solving audit mysteries or getting organized? Barker and Associates can help you overcome audit anxiety and set you and your business up for success. We’ve created a Year-End Checklist for Audit Preparation that will help you streamline the process. Click the button below to enter your email and we will send the checklist to you right away via email.

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