Pitch and Storytelling According to “Schitt’s Creek”
A Successful Pitch is the Result of a Good Story
Recently, I have been watching the Schitt’s Creek series on Netflix … for the second time, and enjoying it even more this time around. When I watched it the first time, I found myself getting irritated. But several Schitt’s Creek fans I knew encouraged me to stick it out, and I am so glad I did. What I learned watching the entire series twice is that each character surprises you from many different dimensions throughout the six seasons, representing numerous similarities to the world of pitching investors.
The story centers around an ultra-wealthy family that loses everything. The first episode shows the authorities taking all of their possessions, forcing the family to move out of their large estate. They soon learn that they can retain a small town they purchased as a joke years earlier. So, they get on a bus with their suitcases and head to their new life. They are immediately immersed into a stark contrast from the luxurious lifestyle to which they had been accustomed. Yet, despite the lack of luxury, their experiences in this small town teach them many lessons they never would have learned before about life and business, including how to pitch to investors. You can see why my interest was piqued! In fact, I was so interested in the story that I watched an interview with the two creators.
One of the creators insisted on developing the backstory of each character for hours prior to starting the script, while the other got increasingly frustrated with the time and energy “wasted” on backstories when they had an entire script to write. However, he soon realized that the investment of time in creating those backstories was one of the primary reasons for the success of the series.
The parallelism to pitching to investors was uncanny. An essential element of a successful pitch to investors is having a compelling backstory. It is far beyond the “script,” or in this case, pitch deck. Working on the story behind the company so that it is authentic and backed by sustainable facts is the key to reaching investors. And connecting with them authentically through your story, coupled with ensuring you are the right fit for their investment criteria, will ultimately secure the investment! Success!
I recently became an investor in the Seattle Angel Group and immensely enjoy the education the group provides for both investors and companies preparing for pitch competitions. Bob Crimmins, a repeat successful entrepreneur, was one of those educators, and he was fascinating. He called successful stories “Cogent Stories,” as they are believable and can help an investor understand how they are going to invest their dollars now and receive a significant return three to five years later. As I watched Schitt’s Creek, I thought a lot about Bob and the impact of “Cogent Stories.” Apparently, they work for more than investor pitches. They are also what is behind a hugely successful series.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming! (Spoiler alert here – if you have not watched the entire series you may not want to read further, but schedule a chat with me (link to my calendar) to discuss your backstory and pitch deck.).
In the show, Johnny Rose (the family patriarch), Stevie (the hotel clerk), and Roland (the mayor of Schitt’s Creek) are business partners and pitch investors, achieving success at the end of the series. There are many circumstances that bring these individuals together, and their collective growth leads to the overall success of the pitch.
Johnny Rose had been a successful businessman and made a lot of money with his business “Rose Video.” The events that led to the loss of his fortune were based only on his business partner’s actions. The business itself was successful. While Johnny’s story is fictional, similar stories happen every single day in the “real world.” What happened to Johnny could happen to anyone if they are not paying attention to governance, controls, and financials. Yet, the loss of Johnny’s fortune was itself a growth experience.
Stevie was working the front desk at the hotel in Schitt’s Creek, feeling like she was a failure. In an effort to “get her life together,” she decides to branch out and interview for a professional position with an airline. After she secures the position, she learns it is not for her after all. This experience actually creates a huge appreciation for who she is, her talents, and her previous role. Similarly, for the C-Suite to be successful, confidence and self-identification for the position must exude when the investors begin their due diligence.
Roland is the mayor of Schitt’s Creek, which is a position filled with pride, in part, because it was bestowed upon him through birth rite. Roland struggled with who he was, and there were many times that his self-discovery process irritated Johnny and Stevie. But despite all of those irritations, he showed he was trustworthy and loyal to them in many ways as their relationship grew.
Through trial and error, often hysterical ups and downs, these three professionals began to trust each other. They respected the talent and contribution they each brought to the team. Johnny knew that Roland would always have his back, and vice versa. One of my favorite episodes is when Johnny and his wife, Moira, are celebrating their wedding anniversary, and they run into some of their old “rich” friends, along with their new friend, Roland. The encounter is a life lesson in itself. Johnny and Moira attempt to fit in like they used to, but soon get irritated and offended when their old friends begin to talk negatively about Schitt’s Creek. Johnny, standing up for Roland, who is even more offended, mentioned that while their so-called friends never reached out once after they lost everything, Roland and Schitt’s Creek welcomed them with open arms.
This episode reminded me of the loyalty, communication, and respect needed among team members working toward pitching to investors. Working as a team to strategize and execute a fast-paced growth company takes perseverance, intellect, the ability to deal with ambiguity, and many other attributes that can only be achieved when there is open communication among team members who trust each other. At the end of the day, it must roll up into an authentic story about who these people are because that’s what investors are investing in … the people behind the company.
When you are preparing to pitch to investors, the best thing you can do is work on your “Cogent Story.” Take the time to create all aspects of your strategy prior to the pitch, similar to how the creators worked tirelessly on creating the backstories of their characters on Schitt’s Creek. Your story will be more authentic, your confidence will increase, your team will be stronger, and your chances of success will increase exponentially. Barker Associates has extensive experience with assisting companies in developing their backstories and preparing pitch decks. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with this link to my calendar to talk about how we can work toward getting you the investment money you need.
How a Pre-Pandemic Shift Left Companies Vulnerable
At the Intersection of Financial Infrastructure and a Global Pandemic
How a Pre-Pandemic Shift Left Companies Vulnerable
Pre-pandemic (do we even remember that time?), the investment world had experienced a huge shift. Unfortunately, this shift did not help prepare companies or investors for what was to come. Priorities had shifted from a company’s sustainability and infrastructure to avenues of increasing revenue as quickly as possible. However, sustainability and infrastructure were exactly what was needed most during a global pandemic.
What Supply and Demand?
Everything we had learned in our earliest economics classes about supply and demand seemed to be irrelevant. I remember those classes –training my brain to think of opposites – supply goes up, demand goes down, and vice versa. However, that concept no longer applied to venture capital and private equity firms. The number of firms that were chasing deals with buckets of money created a huge supply of investor dollars. But the number of successful high–growth companies to invest those dollars did not increase at the same pace.
The result? Investment firms began expanding their reach. They started to invest not only in the usual entrepreneurial high-growth companies, but also in companies that would have typically received funds through stock sales in the public markets or through traditional bank financing. These companies needed to move into the investment firm world to fill the gap that had resulted in too much money and not enough companies. Additionally, investment firms began relaxing the guidelines associated with the due diligence process.
These changes forced a decline in the regulatory compliance surrounding the movement of investment dollars, financial audits, and other financial items. With the focus almost exclusively on top–line revenue growth, there just didn’t seem to be a need for them. Further, companies with contracts that brought in recurring revenue were trading in the investment world based on multiples of revenue (some as high as ten times what their revenue was currently).
A Lack of Infrastructure Meets a Global Pandemic
Enter COVID-19. With so much time and attention previously focused on quick revenue generation, many companies lost the infrastructure to produce the quality financial data and reports needed to make informed decisions for ensuring sustainability. However, infrastructure and sustainability were what was needed to survive the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, every stakeholder (board members, investors, CEOs) immediately shifted their focus to cash flow analysis and sustainability. Chief Financial Officers have all noted that their interaction with other managers, officers, directors, and investors increased literally overnight. While no one could have predicted the full cash impact of the pandemic; in particular, the need for short-term cash flow, they could have been better equipped. The companies best prepared to analyze the situation were the ones that had the appropriate level of infrastructure prior to the pandemic. The stakeholders wanted to know if the entity would survive. While most had the ability to enter ‘survival mode,’ one has little to do with the other. Survival mode is simply not sustainable for any extended period … in any situation.
The pandemic taught us once again that knowledge is power. Infrastructure is crucial when analyzing different scenarios to make decisions quickly. Chief Financial Officers should take advantage of the temporary dynamic brought on by the pandemic. Using this time to get the right type of infrastructure in place will help prepare them to make critical decisions at any moment.
There are many companies that were forced to make difficult decisions to lay off employees, not renew leases, discontinue software development, or even close their doors for good. Unfortunately, most had to make these decisions without the confidence that they possessed all of the information. Full knowledge is mandatory for a sustainable future and for the success of any company overall.
By leading from a position of knowledge, which comes from having the right infrastructure, companies will have an edge over others whose directors or CFOs are blindly making decisions. What does that type of infrastructure mean? We’ve talked about it before – most recently in Oh No Not Again – but essentially it means having an Enterprise Resource Plan, CRM, General Ledger, Cash, HR System, and Payments. A clear vision and financial roadmap on how to achieve that vision, along with cash and a strong general ledger, are the foundation of an essential infrastructure.
Are you wrapped around your pet’s little paw? We are, despite the fact that we recently learned they will lie to us.
Last night, I fed our Maltese and Bichon Frise their dinners and went about my evening activities. Later, my husband, Glenn, came into the kitchen and the little guys acted as if they had missed their dinner. Given the circumstances, he, of course, fed them again.
While our dogs may lie about whether they’ve eaten yet, some things never lie, such as the real data you need to run your business each day. And whether or not you intend to, it’s the same data you need to pitch to investors when seeking funding.
With the right infrastructure in place, you have answers at your fingertips, such as:
What is the seasonal fluctuation of my business so that I can prepare for the ups and downs?
What is the demographic profile of my customers so that I know where, when, and how to reach them?
What is the average cost, price, and profit of a sale? Am I losing money on my best sellers?
These questions and many more can be answered by having the right infrastructure in place and capturing the data as you conduct daily business.
What does the “right infrastructure” look like? The answer is different for each organization based on its size and complexity. At a minimum, an organization should have a list of existing and potential customers and a system to maintain communications with them. The optimal tool is an integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. An organization also needs to manage money and financial information to project cash flow for the next 12 weeks, have the correct information for tax compliance, and make the appropriate strategic decisions. This may mean you need a separate billing system and/or General Ledger. You also need to properly set up your General Ledger with the right coding segments to be able to report on profit and loss by product, location, customer, and department, among others.
If you feel that you are blindly making decisions about hiring, marketing, warehouse space, or any other issue, remember the numbers don’t lie. Let’s talk one-on-one in a free consultation to get you in the right direction. Check out these times on my calendar and choose the one that is best for you.
When I have guests over for dinner, I empty trash cans, pull out the cloth napkins, and replace the everyday hand towel with a nice guest towel. The morning after the dinner party, I almost always say to myself that we should keep the house this tidy and organized all the time. A decluttered house feels really nice. Working at home during the pandemic has allowed me to have the time to keep the house up better and I have enjoyed it.
Think about getting your house in order and keeping it that way, similar to keeping your books and records audit ready. When business owners and their CFOs go through an audit that requires a lot of up-front preparation to get the information auditable, they generally discover facts about their business of which they were previously unaware. The ability to use financial data to think strategically and make sound decisions about the operations of the business is not a luxury to undervalue.
Auditors estimate their costs for performing your audit based on the books and records being clean and auditable. I have asked some auditors how much more first year audits cost than their original estimate due to the books and records being out of order. They report that the range is 20% to over 10 times the original estimate. This is not a pleasant outcome for anyone.
Here are seven tips on how to keep your books auditable and help reduce your audit costs.
Maintain a checking account balance in checkbook style that one person reconciles to the bank statement and then a second person reviews for accuracy.
Reconcile balance sheet account balances no less than once a quarter, if not every month. The two accounts that are generally audit gremlins are prepaid expense and accrued expenses. If you have not reconciled these accounts in the last year, I can almost guarantee you there will be unexplained numbers in them.
Keep a data room with all of your contracts and loans. With the digital age and the end of the metal filing cabinet, this seems to be something that is rarely maintained appropriately. Read more about the data room in my previous blog Who is Your Betty.
As soon as you decide to engage an auditor, your immediate next step should be to get the list of information they will want. Assign a person and a due date to each item on the list and distribute it to the responsible parties. Set deadlines for delivery of the documents and monitor progress until the tasks are completed (Excel schedule, Asana, or other project management software).
Complete the confirmation information and attorney letters immediately after you receive the list of the items the auditors want to confirm. Make sure the auditors give it to you as soon as you have a year-end trial balance for them to review.
Provide the auditors with a complete trial balance. Every adjustment to the trial balance you provide auditors increases the price of the audit.
Work on the format and disclosures of the audited financial statements for the current year as soon as the previous audit is complete. There is no excuse for digging through loan documents to prepare the financial statement footnotes after the year-end, or to read a new GAAP disclosure to figure out how to do it after year-end.
Barker Associates works with companies to access audit readiness, which is a far better investment than starting an audit with false confidence you are able to get through the audit. Let’s work together to make sure your audit fees are not multiples of the original quoted rate from the auditors. Click here to set up a free consultation.
Many entrepreneurs who launch a business are focused on selling and bringing in revenue so much they are not thinking about the type of infrastructure needed to efficiently operate their business. I have to admit that some of this even happened to me when I first began my consulting practice. All of the support I received in my role as a corporate CFO was nonexistent. That saying about building the airplane while flying it applies here.
You bet I am – because it’s that important to the success of your business.
In an ideal world, your infrastructure can be represented by this graphic:
(* ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning – is the conductor that manages all of your business’s processes to integrate them into a cohesive database for reporting purposes).
Small businesses starting out often prioritize going after the work to generate revenue while building a “just-in-time” infrastructure. No thought is behind how all of the pieces should work together with the end result in mind. With a computer and a phone, you can run many types of businesses by the seat of your pants in the beginning.
For a business to grow to the next level, a business owner needs a vision and a roadmap that includes the evolution of their company infrastructure.
Understanding the basics of what your infrastructure should be able to do for you is critical when selecting the right tools to operate. Here are two of the most fundamental components: Cash and your General Ledger.
Knowing your cash burn rate – the rate at which you spend cash over time – is the most basic component for a business owner to know. Without cash you cannot operate. Maintaining a cash ledger, even if it’s in Excel or a tool such as QuickBooks, is critical. Select a tool that provides download capabilities for future integration needs. Forecasting cash needs over the next few weeks or months will help you decide the timing of critical versus discretionary spending. I advise my clients to know at least a 12-week forecast of cash needs.
You may be saying at this point that you already have a tool – your online banking site. Anyone who has heard me speak on this topic knows my position on this – you MUST have a checkbook that is reconciled each month to maintain history. The information gained from this piece of your infrastructure can be used to diagnose issues and strategically to plan for future growth. The online account is only a moment in time and does not serve your future.
Setting up your general ledger with the end goal of financial reporting in mind provides you with the insights you will need to answer questions such as, “How much did I spend in Marketing last year?” and “Am I making or losing money in my Hoboken location?”
Whether or not your future includes seeking investment funding, you must have the infrastructure in place to answer these types of questions when planning for the future. Potential investors will require you have data to back up projections for future sales. If you cannot rely on your general ledger and reporting tools to produce answers, perhaps it’s time to revisit your current infrastructure to support future needs.
Wondering where to start to build the right infrastructure? Let’s start with your General Ledger. Structuring your GL in order to generate reports from various perspectives is critical to daily decisions, budgeting, and financial reporting.
Note this example:
When a GL is structured with these various categories you can examine your business from multiple angles to determine if a location, product, or department are serving the business as needed. If you cannot produce financial reports to support tactical and strategic decision-making, perhaps the GL structure is the problem.
Mindy’s Money Tips contains in-depth, free advice for new entrepreneurs and mature business owners, alike. Find out when new articles are published by following me on your favorite social media platform – the links are shown at the end of this article.
If you would like to discuss how to structure your general ledger to work for you or other specific areas of concern, I would love to speak with you. Click here to schedule a 30-minute free consultation to discuss your unique situation.
We have learned many definitions
related to essential in 2020. The interpretation of essential has been heavily
debated, including discussions over golf courses, liquor stores, restaurants,
and bars. As communities open up, these debates are getting more interesting as
the discussions center around who is allowed to be open.
My favorite debate about “essential”
is the one where the attorneys representing Elizabeth Holmes, the Founder and
CEO of Theranos, appealed to the court that they should be considered essential
and allowed to meet at the office to work.
Pre-COVID, one meaning of “essential” described
having the right infrastructure in place if a company wanted to raise capital. The
right infrastructure is critical to generate the data about your business during
the due diligence process with potential investors.
Here are a few examples of why this is
Revenue projections will be a key
component of what the investor will look at when evaluating the business. The
revenue in the projected income statement for the prior year probably
represents an increase in the revenue over the current year. The investors will
ask questions like: “How long does it take you to close a deal from the time
you speak to a customer to close?” “How many deals do you have in the pipeline
now?” “What is your customer churn rate?” “How do you charge customers – as
SaaS, by transaction?” etc.
These questions will be asked during
the initial discussion as well as during the presentation. Whatever answer you
give, if the due diligence moves forward, must match the data in the general
ledger, CRM (Customer Relationship Manager data base) and other systems.
I have known a C Suite executive
falsely stating things like they have never lost a customer or they close a
deal in 30 days. But when we drilled down on the historical data his statements
are not supported by facts.
I have also experienced a C Suite
Executive who stated that the projections were high because “that is what we
need to close this deal.” False information may get the attention of a
potential investor but it will not keep their attention when they drill down to
the “essential” infrastructure and claims are not backed up by facts.
Burn rate – potential investors will
ask what your burn rate is, i.e. what is the amount of cash the company
requires each month. Burn rate is based on the cash leaving the checking
account – not the pretax income. These are two different calculations and often
commingled into one number for companies. If the C Suite executive states the
monthly burn rate is $10k because that is the best guess he has during an
investor presentation, but the historical cash spend is $15k per month, the
investor will lose trust and the company seeking investment will lose
credibility. Best guess does not get the job done.
buyers are looking for infrastructure that can help them identify, track,
measure and report on a broad range of externalities. Being able to demonstrate
actions taken to date, along with a path forward that helps buyers envision how
the company can help address or mitigate global challenges and serve societal
needs, can help them think more expansively about opportunities for creating
In their article, the E&Y authors
are directing their advice to Private Equity Firms to emphasize the importance of
creating value for portfolio companies the PE may want to sell. The quote above
supports my assertion that adequate infrastructure is essential for
companies seeking investment.
You may say to yourself, I will build
the infrastructure when I am ready to pitch to investors – we are not ready
right now. If you have the ability to influence decisions about company spend,
it is your fiduciary responsibility to insist the company has the right
infrastructure. Not only will it position the company to prepare for the future,
it will guide the entire management team in making the right decisions day to
Let’s dive into your essential infrastructure concerns – click here to set up a 30-minute free consultation to discuss your unique situation.
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
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.
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
Here are some examples of what I mean:
standard monthly entries for amortization of intangibles, and
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
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.
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.
Harley is a Bichon Frise we rescued when his second owner rejected him. Besides being adorable and sweet in so many ways, he is also the most anxious dog I have ever met. My husband calls him PITA, which stands for Pain in the A____. He is 11 years old, and he has been with us most of his life.
Harley loves to play with his toys, with and his favorite is Blue Dog. It is challenging to identify Blue Dog as a dog at this point, as you can see from the picture above.
Blue Dog is to Harley like a work process is to most business people, including accountants. Harley wants his Blue Dog, and we want to stick with the same comfortable process.
Our resistance to change is one of the core reasons most accounting system implementations go bad.
Pushing an existing bad process into a new system is a plan for disaster, yet I see it happening all the time. As the investment market increases pressure on companies to produce fast results, companies try to ramp up the speed to implement new systems to deliver faster results. The compressed timeline does not allow for sufficient planning and training of staff on the new system.
I also frequently find that the system selected is not right for the company. Software cost ends up being the deciding factor over functionality when deciding whether to upgrade software. A comprehensive analysis of software capabilities to support scalability, growth and control turnover is often a critical missed step in the overall selection and evaluation phase of the project.
How can software selection control turnover?
Accountants today are in high demand. Accountants who are responsible for the day-to-day processing of accounting transactions are not interested in performing vintage-style repetitive data input and cumbersome processes when more automated options can be implemented. Talented and well-educated accountants at this level are contacted by recruiters a minimum of 2-3 times a month. The career-path accountant wants to be challenged to create more efficient processes. You will lose them if you force them to continue to deal with antiquated systems.
When evaluating new financial management systems, QuickBooks may be included as the incumbent system for businesses who started as a small business but have grown over the years.
I have a very complicated relationship with QuickBooks. On the one hand, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they have accomplished from market penetration in the business world. The result is the low tangible cost for maintaining the system, which (here’s where my relationship gets complicated), creates a barrier for leaders to open their minds to more robust ERP systems. Leaders resist taking the plunge to move up a level to a more strategic system until they are forced to do so as a result of a financial transaction with a lender or equity financial backer. I have seen businesses with annual revenue of $50 million still using QuickBooks, which drove off great staff and created chaos.
Besides the internal turmoil caused by the failure to evolve technically, there are implications to enterprise value. Financial reports that fail to provide clarity during due diligence are limiting factors to monetize the Enterprise Value of the business. Understanding the quality of earnings or completing an audit are other critical functions that require precise, succinct financial reports.
The ease of using a system such as QuickBooks can equate to Harley and Blue Dog. I don’t think our household will suffer (much) if Harley ever has to replace Blue Dog, but I am not so sure about fast-growing businesses who continue to rely on QuickBooks. The lack of functionality and ease of integration can prevent you from seeing the entire story of the company for which you have responsibility.
Consider the following indicators that you need to review your financial ERP system:
Experiencing a high turnover in the accounting department.
Month-end close takes more than seven days.
Reconciliation of Bank Accounts takes more than 30 minutes.
Customer collections are not timely.
Lack of clarity of profit of specific services or products.
Personnel expenses by department not readily available.
Processing of corporate credit card transactions requires more than an hour of an accountant’s time.
With the right financial story, you are empowered to grow your business. Take an honest look at your situation using the factors listed above. Barker Associates helps our clients with a balanced look at their position and the path to financial clarity, and we are happy to help you, too. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation – email@example.com.
When Business Leaders
Confess That They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
I have avoided yoga class for a few months because I was intimidated by the fact that most of the participants twist and turn like the performers in Cirque du Soleil®. This morning I decided I would break through my barrier of feeling intimidated and attend the class. As I drove to class, I realized one of the reasons I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone TODAY was because I had attended previous classes with this specific teacher. Alyson Foreacre is the owner of Yoga Den, where I attend. She is an amazing teacher who I trusted to lead me through my own practice of yoga. If all I did was stay in one yoga pose and breath, she would probably encourage me to do more in a very respectful and empathetic way.
My journey with yoga can be compared to how business leaders
feel about financial information. In my years of practice, I have learned that
they are intimidated by financial reports. They are fearful of asking questions,
they don’t want to sound ignorant. Feeling intimidated by yoga class and by
financial information is similar, as in both cases we are keeping ourselves
from something that can be helpful in our overall lives.
My feelings of intimidation with yoga were primarily tied to fear of not keeping up with the class and not knowing how to do all the moves. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about how yoga class is a practice, not a directive. I was so right when I told myself “I got this” with Alyson’s assistance. She is an encouraging teacher who provides alternatives if she knows you need them. She also lovingly encourages you when you need a little guidance. Today she even laid on the floor beside me to show me how to do a certain move. She validated my confidence in her ability to get me through the difficult moves.
I often meet with entrepreneurial business owners, nonprofit
leaders or business professionals in corporations to discuss their pain points.
The most frequent statement I hear during those discussions are “I don’t know
what I don’t know.” I have to admit that,
it wasn’t until I was attacked by the anxiety of doing the right kind of
Downward-Facing Dog and other yoga moves, that I truly have the proper level of
empathy for this statement. I also realized that I should feel honored that my
clients trust in me to share their own fears of financial information.
Being responsible for an entire organization, or even just a section of one, without understanding the financial implications can be frightening. It takes a lot of courage to push through your uncomfortable zone, to accept some uncomfortable space for some time until you understand. Just like my sore muscles right now are telling me it will take a few times before that class feels good. But I know that if I dare to go again and I struggle, Alyson will be there for me.
Is it possible that you don’t know what you don’t know? If you struggle with the following internal dialog, the answer is probably “Yes”:
I do not receive financial statements each month
timely and I do not understand why.
Cash is very tight, and I am not sure we have
enough money to pay the bills and make payroll for the next month or two. I am not sure how to address this.
The new revenue recognition guidance is
required, and I do not know where to begin with implementation.
The organization needs to raise capital and I do
not know what the right type of investor is for our organization.
The corporation needs to divest of a subsidiary
or a line of business and I am not sure how to make that work. What are the
I know we need better systems and process to
improve the customer experience but I do not know where to begin or have the
time to ask various vendors what their system does, or even understand the full
capabilities of our current system.
Barker Associates can help you work through these anxieties and guide you through the process. We are direct communicators who will share with you the reality of the situation, even it is not what you want to hear. Recalling my sore yoga muscles, I will be empathetic to your journey of not knowing what you do not know. Give me a chance to let my experience work for you. https://mindybarkerassociates.com/contact/
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.