When a business is growing one of the most essential requirements is to keep good control of the finances. Poor cashflow can kill a business very quickly and having someone who really understands the finances and how they can work can save a company from disaster.
The challenge is that when a company is in the early or mid stages of growth it generally can’t afford a full time Finance Director (FD) or CFO, even when it’s needed. A good FD or CFO is expensive because of the years of study, training and experience they have to undertake to achieve and maintain their qualification. They are also a scarce resource and the good ones can make a huge difference to a business.
So companies struggle through without anyone really looking at their financial strategy and underlying financial performance. They may bring in a bookkeeper or a firm of accountants to keep their books and put together some reports. However, more often than not, it’s the CEO who has to handle anything to do with raising finance, figuring out commercial terms, dealing with investors, developing business plans and models and handling banks. And that’s a big distraction for someone whose focus should be on building, marketing and developing the business and leading and motivating staff. And if they get it wrong, it could spell the end for the company or the CEO.
When a company is growing there’s often no need for a full-time finance professional in the business and companies that do bring in a heavyweight CFO or FD can find that much of their time is spent on low value activities, such as bookkeeping and admin. Alternatively, they start to get involved in many other areas of the business or just spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen. This can be frustrating for them, as they’re not fully using their skills, and it’s an expensive luxury for the company that it can probably ill afford. And, with salaries for a good, experienced CFO or FD easily into the six figure range, and all the employment costs on top, it often doesn’t make good business sense to take someone on full time.
More and more growing companies are recognising that using a part time Finance Director or CFO in their business provides a solution to these issues. There are a growing number of companies in the market providing finance professionals who work with companies anywhere from 1 to 4 days a month as their CFO or FD. This provides a flexible solution to the needs of the company, allowing the CEO to focus on their stronger areas and ensuring that the finances of the company are being steered in the right direction. By using just a few days each month it ensures that the focus of the CFO/FD is on the right areas rather than getting involved in anything that comes up. And the good ones will tell you very clearly if they believe the work can be done by someone for a lower cost.
Another advantage of having someone who’s also working with other businesses is that they can bring new insights into your company and are less likely to fall into the “we’ve tried that before” or “we don’t do it that way” traps that hamper many companies.
A part time CFO or FD will agree a plan of action for the business and make sure that the fundamentals of strategy, business planning, cash flow forecasting, financial management and good commercial practices are applied. For the CEO, they have a great sounding board and business partner that they can turn to for advice, guidance or just to bounce ideas off. For many CEOs the value of a having a trusted advisor to hand hugely outweighs the costs.
The cost of a part time FD or CFO varies on their experience, qualification and the level of work you need. They are usually charged on a daily rate which is equivalent to around 1% of the base salary for their level. And when you consider that you don’t have all the employment and recruitment costs associated with an employee (which can easily take the base cost up another 60%) and you only pay for the days you need, this can work well for the business. Also, when you consider the value that a good CFO can bring to a company, then you can easily get a 10 to 20 times return on your investment and considerably more peace of mind.
So, do part time FDs work for business? It will always come down to the chemistry with the team and the experience and training of the individual CFO/FD but the flexibility and focus that they offer is proving to be a very attractive proposition for many growing companies. Investors are seeing the benefits of having a strong financial presence in the company and CEOs welcome the support that they provide, so it’s certainly a field that going to grow.