Growing Wealth … It’s Not Just for Companies What We Can Take from the Office
When you’ve been acting in some type of CFO capacity for as long as I have, you can’t help it—growth strategies, numbers, maximizing revenue, minimizing expenses, and leadership are a part of your DNA. And that DNA stays with you whether you are in the office, on a Zoom call, or taking care of your personal finances.
I started thinking about the correlation between what we do in our “official” CFO role and what we do in our personal lives. I asked myself what we can learn about what we do in the office to take it home and help us build our own wealth. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that many of the same principles apply whether we are strategizing for our companies or for our families.
Unless you’re independently wealthy or have been left a huge inheritance, you have to build your own wealth, just like a company has to build its revenue. While inflation and growing debt may make it seem like this is futile, with the right principles, strategies, and habits in place, your financial growth will strengthen. So, I’ve compiled the top five habits to help you grow your wealth … from a CFO perspective.
1. Don’t spend more than you earn
This may seem intuitive, but for many individuals, it’s anything but. It’s critical to be aware of our spending habits and have discipline to live within our means. This does not mean depriving ourselves of full lives, as some may think. Rather, it comes down to making choices.
A few tips to help along the way:
Take advantage of automated savings (i.e., pay yourself first).
Eliminate frivolous spending.
Create a budget and stick with it.
Stop comparing your spending with others (especially from social media posts).
2. It’s never to early (or late) to invest and save
Far too many younger individuals just entering the workforce think they don’t have to worry about saving for retirement or investing. They figure they have years to think about all of that. But I would argue there is no time like the present. Investing is a great tool to help build wealth, but to truly do so takes years. So, the sooner we start, the better.
Additionally, when we start younger and don’t yet have a family or other major expenses to account for, we can invest more and solidify some strong financial habits before incurring additional, often larger expenses. On the opposite side, others think it’s too late, so why bother. It is never too late. You may not have exactly what you had hoped for as you approach retirement, but at least you will have something.
Financial planning should always include both short-term and long-term goals. This includes having an emergency fund, so when those inevitable life experiences come up, our savings accounts do not get exhausted. It also includes taking advantage of matching retirement plans, such as 401(k)s.
3.Use debt strategically
Many financial experts will say to avoid debt at all costs (pun intended). However, I urge my clients to first consider the type of debt they have and also the importance of having some debt. To start, in order to build credit, it must first be established by incurring debt. This does not mean you should max out credit cards and pay insanely high-interest rates (actually an example of the bad debt we want to avoid). But if you are responsible with the debt you have, and make payments in full on time, you will build credit. With regard to the type of debt, consider lower rates on mortgages, home equity loans, and federal student loans. This can help establish credit and free up cash to invest.
Just like a company needs more than one product or service to offer, we need more than one source of revenue to truly build wealth. Now, you may be thinking that you already work a full-time job or have a business to run, with no time for anything else. However, there are many passive income opportunities that can help generate additional revenue with little time and effort.
When we diversify our income sources, we minimize the risks associated with losing our jobs or closing our businesses. Other benefits to having additional sources include:
saving more and investing,
paying off bad debt, or
taking a long overdue vacation.
5. Remember knowledge is power
This is a leadership principle that pertains to any industry and organization, and it applies equally here. We must always make a commitment to continuous learning. While expanding financial knowledge can be overwhelming to some, continuously educating yourself is the key to becoming more financially stable—from new tax laws to interest rates to investment opportunities.
Resources can be found almost anywhere—blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars, mentors, and coaches. How you do it is up to you. The important piece is to be prepared, ask questions, and learn something that will help you navigate the path to reaching your financial goals.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Cash Plus Cultural Literacy What Private Equity Needs in Lower Middle Market Deals
Last year was a record year for private equity. With pandemic related stimulus, there was an increase in dealmaking and exits, as well as new records in deal values. But the drastic increase in inflation, along with extensive supply chain disruptions throughout the world, left many wondering what would happen in 2022.
Much of that speculation is the continued shift in attention toward growth equity and middle markets. Lower middle markets (defined as $5m – $100m in revenue) offer innovative solutions and compelling business models, and they are ripe for private equity investments. Yet, there appear to be some challenges – namely, cultural literacy – holding back some of these deals.
We’ve all been hearing about the importance of organizational culture recently. It has seemingly never been as important in trying to attract top talent and offer an engaging, fulfilling employee experience. But long before the Great Resignation left leaders scrambling to fill vacant seats, lower middle market companies placed great value on their culture.
These are companies that more often than not still have their founders involved, working toward their vision to move their companies further along. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment. There is often a sense of family when it comes to employees – these are the people who helped the founders realize their vision in the first place. And this strong sense of culture is not taken lightly.
When a private equity firm is interested in a lower middle market company, they must first understand this culture – and that it is different from larger companies. Cultural literacy creates the level of trust required for a successful deal. It’s as important as speaking the same language (or having a really great interpreter). But too often, that’s not the case. They are simply not accustomed to dealing with each other … and they must learn each other’s languages.
Why the Disconnect?
There are many reasons the “languages” differ among lower middle market and private equity firms. However, finding common ground is crucial to making these deals that will ultimately benefit both parties.
Education. A majority of investors at private equity firms hail from top universities, with advanced degrees, whereas successful lower middle market founders and leaders may not have pursued graduate degrees. In some cases, they may not even have undergraduate degrees. Degree or not, their success often stems from their incredible innovation, hard work, and perseverance.
Experience. Many in the lower middle market have little or no experience in mergers and acquisitions, while, clearly, private equity firms have plenty. That, in and of itself, can be an entirely new language to learn.
Values. The founders of lower middle market companies typically have strong employee retention rates. In fact, some of their employees may have been there since Day 1. They are a family, and founders want to protect their families. Many will care as much, or even more, about their employees than a big payday. Private equity firms must shift to understand that the purchase price may be only one piece of the total value to them.
These are not insurmountable challenges. And with consideration of each party’s perspective, these deals can, and will, go through successfully. But just like in any deal where different cultures exist, it takes time, patience, and understanding.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance to companies of all sizes. We provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, especially as it relates to the support needed in a merger or acquisition of any size. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Credit Check – It’s National Credit Education Month
March is National Credit Education Month. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card or a car loan, you know the importance of having good credit. At its foundation, it demonstrates to a lender how likely it is that you will repay your debt on time. Having good credit benefits you in countless ways, while having bad credit can challenge you in just as many.
This month serves as an important reminder for us all to check our credit scores and implement tools and tips to help improve it, if need be. Overall, it’s about increasing our knowledge around credit, including the amount of debt we carry, the age of our credit history, reports to collection agencies, the effect of late payments, high interest, and hard inquiries, and the number of accounts we have.
While this monthly designation is focused on personal credit, both maintaining it and improving it, it also presents an ideal opportunity to look at the importance of business credit. Just as with personal, its significance lies in showing a lender your reliability in paying back debt on time. Simply, consistently monitoring the financial health of your business is a crucial part of running a successful business.
What is a Business Credit Score?
Similar to a personal credit score, a business credit score (also known as a commercial credit score) is the primary indicator of your business’s creditworthiness. It’s a number that indicates if a company is a good candidate for a loan or other extension of credit by vendors or partners. One difference from a personal credit score is the numbers themselves. Instead of the 300 to 850 on the personal side, a business credit score ranges from 0 to 100 and will be reported most often on Equifax, Experian, and Dun and Bradstreet.
To determine if your business is financially risky or stable, consider the following factors:
a company’s credit obligations;
repayment histories with lenders and suppliers;
any legal filings, such as tax liens, judgments, or bankruptcies;
how long the company has operated;
business type and size; and
repayment performance compared to that of similar companies.
Why is Business Credit so Important?
If a company wants to take out a loan to purchase equipment, lease property, or obtain better terms on a supplier contract, the lender/supplier will consider its business credit score. The lender will also consider the company’s revenue, profits, assets, liabilities, and collateral value of the equipment or property, if applicable. Essentially, you will need your profit and loss statement and balance sheet ready for review. In some instances, particularly with small businesses, lenders often check both business and personal credit.
Having good credit for your business will help you qualify for financing faster and easier to purchase an asset or help cash flow issues. It may also help you secure lower interest rates, saving you money over the life of the loan. Another benefit is the likelihood of getting better repayment terms with suppliers, helping your cash flow remain positive. Further, having a strong business credit score can help protect your personal credit score. Without business credit, lenders will have to rely on your personal credit. You should try to avoid this situation, if at all possible, as it increases your credit utilization ratio, and consequently, increases the likelihood of a negative impact on your personal credit. And if something happens with the business, it could take you years to fix it.
Five Steps for Establishing and Improving Your Business Credit
The following five steps can help establish and then improve your business credit score:
Open a business bank account
Open a business credit file (for example, on Dun & Bradstreet)
Get a business credit card
Establish a line of credit with your suppliers or vendors
Pay all of your bills on time
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance to companies of all sizes. While we provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, we also never minimize the basics, including the importance of business credit. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
New Year; New Budget Maintaining Control Over the Organization’s Finances
It’s January. Your new calendar is in place. There is a renewed sense of energy among the team. A fresh start for your business awaits. Your organization has its yearly goals (or you are in the process of developing them), and it appears to be full speed ahead. Yet, as always, with wide open space in front of us, there’s only one way to effectively move forward – stop and develop a well-thought-out plan. And, in this case, a major part of that plan is the annual budget.
Budget Benefits An annual budget provides benefits that reach far beyond year end. Budgets clarify your goals, provide an accurate picture of what you can afford (and what you can’t), increase creativity (by helping you think outside of the box when it comes to funding sources), help you to avoid surprises, and fulfill some stringent requirements (budgets are needed for funding and become the basis for quarterly financial statements).
Accurate, up-to-date annual budgets not only help organizations maintain control over their finances throughout the year, but also demonstrate to funders exactly how their money is being utilized. They provide an opportunity to view any gaps in funding and what is needed to close those gaps. They also decrease the likelihood of overspending by keeping you and other stakeholders accountable.
Budget Basics While one organization’s budget may be different than another’s, there are common factors included in them all – what we like to call the “budget basics.” Below are some of those basics, along with tips on how to make the best projections:
Tip 1: Income should be broken down by source. For example, sales of goods or services, subscriptions, grants, contracts, yearly dues or fees (for memberships), rental income (if you have rental property), investment income, and funding from investors.
Tip 2: Start with last year’s figures as a baseline and estimate conservatively. You never want to be overly optimistic when it comes to income. That means staying on the lower end when you make your projections.
Tip 3: Look at who has regularly funded the organization in the past. Have they already promised anything for this year? Is it time to ask?
Tip 4: Analyze whether your funder has restricted the use of funds for a specific activity or item. Build this into the budget to ensure that you adhere to your funder’s restrictions.
Tip 1: Categorize expenses. Look at payroll, rent, consulting service fees, office expenses, transportation, travel, and anything else on which you expect to spend money.
Tip 2: Once again, you should start with last year’s numbers and make conservative projections from there. But instead of staying on the low end, with expenses, you always want to estimate on the high end.
Comparison of Projected Income to Expenses.
If they are approximately equal, your budget is balanced.
Tip: Use the money as you have planned, and do not deviate.
If projected expenses are significantly less than projected income, you have a budget surplus.
Tip: Consider strategies to expand or invest money.
If projected expenses are significantly more than projected income, you have a budget deficit.
Tip: Look for funding sources or find areas to cut expenses.
While your budget will always begin with estimates, it’s imperative to make real-time adjustments as the year progresses. These adjustments should be made monthly to keep the budget as accurate as possible. In fact, by the time you are in the fourth quarter, your adjusted estimates should be very close to your actuals. Additionally, and with particular importance this year, is paying attention to what’s outside of the numbers. With the economy and employment in a state of constant flux, you should anticipate changes in leadership, staffing shortages, product delays, and increasing prices, and their impacts on the budget.
Set yourself up for success in 2022 with an accurate, up-to-date annual budget that you can rely on to get from January to December. After all, it’s difficult to reach any destination without a map.
Barker Associates has extensive experience as an outsourced CFO. If you need assistance with your budget, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Pandemic’s Larger Impacts on Financial Reporting It’s About Much More than a Loss of Revenue
Many people incorrectly assumed that the pandemic’s only true effect on a business’s financials was a loss (albeit often significant) of revenue. And while that assumption is not even necessarily true of every business (many did very well), Covid-19 impacted much more—not just financial performance, but also position, cashflow, and balance sheet accounts. There have been impairments to goodwill and other intangibles, effects on inventory, a change in how and when audits are conducted, and impacts to overall company strategy and goals. And these impacts are especially challenging for a company in the growth phase.
If your company is in the growth phase, it’s crucial to think about your options, understand your needs and, more significantly, how they have changed since the pandemic, what numbers are required, and to develop a new strategy. Companies in the growth phase are experiencing positive cash flow. With this increase in cash, they have the ability to repay debt, and are in a better position to seek additional capital from investors to expand their market reach. However, if the CFO hasn’t been carefully monitoring the pandemic’s impact on all aspects of the company’s financials, they likely don’t have their reporting in order to even approach potential investors.
Changing Financial Needs Means Increased Financial Monitoring
We learned fairly quickly in the beginning of the pandemic that liquidity is key to keeping a business from closing its doors in a crisis. The question that plagued many was how to increase liquidity with revenue decreasing? But those CFOs were often only considering pre-pandemic needs and observations, not the changing needs of the company in the midst of the pandemic. Auditors have noted that many accounts, including sales, inventory, and bad debt have been affected, as well as production and distribution.
First, these changing needs require a change in financial monitoring. Cash flow projections and other assumptions used to measure financial instruments pre-pandemic should be adjusted to reflect your company’s new reality. Remember that a majority of businesses have been affected in one way or another, but if that results in their lack of ability to pay you, you’re going to incur additional credit and liquidity risks, increased bad debt, and write-offs.
Cash Flow A careful analysis of your company’s cash flow can help. Some questions to consider about revenue include:
Are accounts receivable being paid?
Are past due accounts being followed up on?
Are late payment fees and interest being charged to customers (your money should not be free)?
Do you need to offer pre-payment discounts?
Should you look at retainers/deposits?
Do you have the capability of setting up auto-payments?
Of course, we can’t consider cash flow without considering expenses. And while there will be a decrease in some, there will be an increase in others. At a minimum, consider the following questions:
How have your office needs changed?
Do you have the ability to downsize?
How much are you saving due to decreased meal and travel expenses?
Where are these savings being utilized?
How much more are you spending on technology expenditures to maintain communications with staff and customers/clients?
Balance Sheet Accounts
Additionally, other balance sheet accounts have also been affected. One issue that warrants attention if you plan to seek outside funding is inventory needs and accessibility. With productivity and supply chains being disrupted, it may be difficult to allocate costs to inventory. There is also the issue of inventory that cannot be delivered because of travel restrictions. This also plays a significant role in the larger economic impact of decreased supply and increased demand, resulting in higher prices going forward.
Goodwill, post-retirement plans, and internal controls are other accounts/issues that require an in depth look at your financials and a pivot in business strategy, as we slowly climb out of this pandemic.
If you’re still waiting for things to get back to “normal,” and analyzing your financials based on pre-pandemic assumptions, you are not doing your business justice. You may think you have enough cash on hand or that expenses are timely being paid, but without meticulous monitoring and a true long-term plan based on our new reality, you cannot forecast or grow to the next level.
This can be overwhelming. But pivoting in your financial planning and forecasting is necessary. Barker Associates has extensive experience in financial statement analysis, plans, and forecasts. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Balancing Act of Account Reconciliation and Online Banking Convenience Doesn’t Make Up for Inaccuracy
We are continuing our financial literacy discussion with something we all know about … or do we? We’re talking about online banking and its effect on our reconciliation habits (or lack thereof). In our daily routines, with our phones and computers easily assisting us with deposits, automated payments, and Zelle transfers, do we ever think about good old bank account statements and the ever-important task of regular bank account reconciliations? My guess for many is no.
Most of us happily “live” online. Our online lives provide convenience and speed like we’ve never known before. Simply, they provide what we all crave – instant gratification. As a society, we have become accustomed to having all of the information we need with the click of our mouse or a swipe on our smartphone. Dare I say, we tend to get a little lazy, not to mention, annoyed, when we don’t have instantaneous satisfaction. Everything from groceries to dinner delivery to setting appointments to virtual doctor’s appointments to online banking just helps make our lives easier. And we’re all for it.
With regard to online banking, being able to find out your balance, arrange for a payment, and make a deposit all from the palm of our hand is wonderful … in certain situations. However, in many instances, people are becoming far too reliant on this online information and forgetting about some of the basics, such as bank account reconciliation.
In the Days Before Online Banking
Once upon a time, long before online banking became a regular part of our lives, the standard practice for both personal and business checking accounts was to reconcile a check register to a monthly bank statement. You remember those days (or you should) – when you received your bank statement in the mail (yes, the actual mailbox, not email) and then you’d open your checkbook and go through line-by-line check-marking away to make sure each transaction was accounted for? Well, there was a reason for that. You need to know which transactions have cleared and which haven’t, so you can accurately determine how much is in your account (which, in reality, is not always what the number on the statement says).
Yet, when accounting professionals adopted online banking into their processes, organizations tended to forgo the discipline of maintaining a check register as part of their reconciliation processes. In the interest of increasing efficiencies, and feeling as if the ends no longer justified the means, reconciliation became an “obsolete” practice. But should it have? Absolutely not.
A Common Conversation
The following is a typical conversation I’ve had when consulting with clients on accounting process improvements:
Accounting professional (with a bundle of unsigned checks): “This is our process for obtaining check signatures.”
Me:“How do you know you have enough money in the account to cover these checks? What is your procedure?”
Accounting professional:“I checked the balance online this morning.”
Me:“Where is the reconciliation to the check register? How do you know that all of the uncashed checks will not deplete the entire balance?”
Accounting professional:“I know there are not that many outstanding checks.”
Me:“When is the last time you reconciled the account?”
Accounting professional: Answers range from “a year ago” to “I do not remember” (not good) to “yesterday” or “a month ago” (which is good).
Finding the Right Balance
I am not saying there aren’t times when viewing online balances without going through the reconciliation process is appropriate, but it’s not the final reconciliation resource. It’s okay to use online banking as an effective tool to manage your daily cash flow, but it requires the extra effort of being connected to a cash reconciliation process that is properly maintained and reviewed periodically. Without accurate and consistent reconciliations, your organization is at risk of fraud, unauthorized withdrawals, or bank errors. If left unchecked, these issues can quickly lead to cash flow issues that will hurt business operations and stifle growth.
Let’s avoid those situations with an experiment: If you are a CEO, President of a company, or a Finance Chair of a non-profit, ask the accounting department for the latest bank/cash reconciliation of the operating account. Ask specifically for these documents:
The bank reconciliation
A copy of the bank document to which it was reconciled
The Balance Sheet balance to which it was reconciled
(Note: Publicly traded companies, financial institutions, insurance companies and other regulated industries have to maintain reconciliation procedures, so if you are in charge of one of those, regulation will take care of this.)
If you are bold enough to move forward with this call to action, my experience tells me about 50% of you will get a reconciliation completed in the last 45 days. If you get one and do not know how to review it, schedule time with me for a free, no-obligation checklist that will guide you through a high-level review.
If you do not get a reconciliation, and, in fact, get a blank stare from your accounting person, contact me to complete a review of your cash procedures and processes. You may have plenty of cash flow today, but how do you really know without a current reconciliation? Don’t risk finding yourself in a position where you cannot meet your basic financial obligations. “Cash is king” is a cliché’ for a reason – it’s true!
Can You Really Afford Not to Understand Your Budget? Get Off the Financial Treadmill with a Budget and Move Forward
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.
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.
How to Avoid Driving Down the Interstate Blindfolded Our Kick-Off to National Financial Literacy Month
April is National Financial Literacy Month, and I personally cannot think of a better time to discuss the importance of understanding financials. You don’t have to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to have a healthy grasp on your numbers. In fact, I sincerely hope that many others do. Financial literacy is important whether it’s for yourself and your family, as the owner of a small business, as a non-profit director, or in any capacity where you have some control over money coming in and money going out. This month presents a timely opportunity to review and upgrade not only your financials, but equally as important, your financial knowledge.
First, some history. National Financial Literacy Month had its beginnings over twenty years ago, and has since evolved into a month-long observance. The idea of dedicating a month to this topic has broad support – the House and Senate have issued joint resolutions in support of National Financial Literacy Month, and the U.S. Department of Education promotes its observance.
What is Financial Literacy and How Does it Affect Business?
According to Investopedia.com, “financial literacy” is the “ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing.” And unless the business you’ve started or are otherwise running is a financial services firm, accounting, budgets, and numbers may not be your strong suit. That’s okay – they’re not a lot of people’s favorite things either (we are a select few)!
Yet, understanding your business’s finances, including cash flow, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and budgets, is essential to understanding the overall health of your business. In fact, according to a study by U.S. Bank, as reported in Business Insider, 82% of small businesses fail because of cash flow problems. That’s why every for-profit and non-profit organization owner, officer, and director should prioritize financial literacy in their continuing education. And it’s also why we’re going to help you do just that.
For the next few weeks, we are going to observe National Financial Literacy Month in the best way we know how. You can expect our own version of financial tutorials right here in our blog. We will talk about everything from the terms you need to know to common misconceptions to why it’s so important to review some basic concepts, such as EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization), Working Capital (Cash and other Current Assets less Current Liabilities), Aged Accounts Receivable, and many more.
Where Do You Stand?
For this week, let’s start with some basics. Take this financial literacy quiz to see if you’re on the right path to financial brilliance, or if maybe you have some brushing up to do.
1. Do you have a financial professional on staff?
Having the expertise of a CPA or internal (or outsourced) CFO can save you time and money in the long run.
2. How often do you forego infrastructure development to save money?
Saving money is, of course, important, but so are efficiencies.
3. Do you have an annual budget?
Navigating the fiscal year without a budget is just like driving down the interstate blindfolded! By reviewing past revenue and expense flows to forecast future income and expenses you can create a budget to see clearly where you are going.
4. If yes, do you monitor actual vs. budget?
The annual budget is a living, breathing document, meant to be part of your monthly financial review process – planned versus actual expenses. It’s okay to make periodic adjustments, a process that helps you know if the company goals are on track.
5. Do you firm grasp on your profit and loss statement and balance sheet?
Both documents are crucial, but each provides its own benefits. A balance sheet provides a snapshot as to how effectively a company’s resources are used. A profit and loss (P&L) statement provides a summary of the company’s revenue and expenses incurred during a specific period of time.
6. Is your G/L infrastructure meeting the need?
If your monthly financial reporting: (a) is either non-existent or (b) is not helping you run your business, consider a review and restructuring of your GL. Make it work for you – not the other way around.
How many “Yeses” did you score on the Financial Brilliance Meter? 0 – 1 – Financial Dunce
2 – 3 – Financial Aptitude
4 or more – You are on the road to Financial Brilliance!
No matter where you scored, we’ve got you covered. Stay tuned for the best ways to increase your financial literacy this month, so that a perfect score is waiting for you the next time you take the quiz. And if you scored perfectly now, congratulations! But, as you know, as a leader, professional, and human being, there is always room for growth.
If you need additional assistance, we’re only a phone call or email away. Barker Associates has extensive experience working with organizations to better understand their financials and help them drive into their future blindfold-free. Use this link to my calendar to choose the best time for your free 30-minute financial analysis consultation.
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.
It is the first month of the calendar year and for many, the start of the fiscal year as well. The first month for you to start measuring the results you assuredly planned and documented in a budget for the year.
Each of you has a different relationship with your budget. Each of the components of this relationship can lead to great results or negative ones, depending on how you react to them. Your reactions can impact your personal career as well as the health of the company you own or work for.
Read more about some of the pitfalls of budgeting and how to enhance your relationship with the budget to achieve the great results for which you planned.
CEOs, Presidents and Executive Directors
If you created the budget while sitting with your accountant, made sure you were comfortable with the revenues and expenses, but have not communicated it to the managers and leaders of the organization, you have just cheated on your budget. My counsel is to get the budget in a presentable format to communicate to those who have a chance to manage day-to-day to help you achieve the results forecasted in the budget.
The message to your managers should include your overall strategy, backed by practical, measurable goals. Your leaders need to believe in your strategy because if they do, your job of leading the organization to positive results will be so much easier.
I repeatedly hear, in large and small organizations, from managers, supervisors and those on the front line, that they have no idea what the monthly budget is for repairs to equipment, printing costs, etc. They are spending money based on one decision at a time without the benefit of the overall strategy. Without involving your managers in the process, you are not benefitting from their knowledge and experience.
Nonprofit Executives and Finance Committee Members
Can you answer these questions? If not, your budget package needs work.
How much does it cost the organization to run each program? Of that total cost, how much is covered by actual funding commitments and how much has to be raised to maintain the program(s)?
How much of your administrative cost – Finance, Accounting, Development, etc., is funded by direct reimbursement and/or the de minimis administration expense reimbursement in grant budgets? How much money has to be raised to cover these costs?
Does the budget package have one column for the Net Change in Assets/Income Statement and no backup schedules to show the Revenues and Expenses by program and grant? If your answer is yes, the budget package is one-dimensional. In other words, it does not provide the fundraisers and the Board the needed information to interact with potential donors and speak intelligently about the real needs that are met through fundraising. Many nonprofits go under when they issue one dimensional budgets to Finance Committees year after year. There is no clear understanding of the true funding requirements. Your fiduciary responsibility should lead you to ask for more transparency regarding where the needed funds for programming and administration costs will come from.
Finance and Accounting Professionals
Did you manage the budget process so that the budget is constructed the same way the detail accounting entries are made month-to-month? Most non-finance professionals hate to deal with anything that has “Budget to Actual Variance” in the description; add to it that you are explaining that the variances are because the budget has one type of accounting and the actual has another, and you are sure to cause irritation that is just not necessary. It is like a spouse putting the toilet paper on the roll backward – it is irritating and just not necessary. It is your job to keep the conversations and analyses about real differences and tie those differences to a real discussion that empowers the team to react and strategically move the direction as planned or make a decision to pivot. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:
Differences Between Finance and Payroll Practices
Large and small organizations find themselves with the ineffective comparison of budget-to-actual salaries, caused by Finance dividing the total annual salary by twelve for the monthly budget. Payroll records the true payroll expense. Month-to-month variances result, as Finance budgeted for a full twenty-eight to thirty-one days and Payroll budgeted for twenty-eight or forty-two days depending on whether it’s a two or three pay period month.
Insurance is typically paid in advance for the quarter or year. If it is material, it should be set up in a Prepaid Account. If insurance bills are expensed as paid, the month variance could be a result of those payments and not an actual expense overage.
Annual payments for subscriptions
These payments should be reviewed to determine materiality; determine if they should be set up in a prepaid account when paid, or if they are immaterial and should be expensed. When you mirror the actual accounting and the anticipated expense pattern in the budget you can avoid unnecessary variances and questions.
A company that is anticipating a large increase in revenue should determine how the increased sales and related cost of goods should be spread throughout the year in the budget. Consider the current pipeline and sales cycle when budgeting sales revenue. If your sales cycle is 120 days and there is $1 million in your pipeline at the end of the year, you will not realize $3 million in sales in the first quarter. A fast-growing entity could possibly reach $12 million in sales for the full year, but it should not be spread evenly to each month. Patterns such as this will frustrate executives and sales staff and make them feel like failures. This would be the equivalent of us expecting our spouse to be Jeff Bezos and to increase our family’s net worth at the same rate.
Make sure you are empowered with the right information to effectively run your department. Do your best to work with accounting to submit invoices and information within their deadlines so they can process the data into information that you can review and use to communicate effectively with the leaders of the organization.
Try to manage potential budget cuts made throughout the year so the troops can stay focused on driving the overall strategy of the business.
Think of it like this great example in the Netflix series House of Cards (spoiler alert if you have not begun your binge watching of the series – sorry).
In this episode, Frank becomes President and wants to take funds from FEMA to fund a jobs program to put people to work. The head of FEMA does not resign and tells his colleague he is not going to resign, as he is the only one who can manage the reduced funds and help those in need if a hurricane does hit after Frank took all the budget money. While the drama is critical for a successful Netflix series, you don’t want a similar drama playing out in your company!
Good luck with your relationship with the budget. Use my advice to help manage your fiduciary responsibility to the organization, as well as your duty to manage your career. Avoid the many aspects of “marital irritation” I have discussed by correctly managing Budget-to-Actual variances.
If you would like to discuss your relationship with your budget directly with me, please sign up for a complimentary 30-minute session through the contact link here.