Running a business takes many skills sets, and business owners, eager to keep costs in check, try to do it all. From hiring decisions to compiling financial statements, owners spread themselves thin running from task to task. The upside? There’s no large salary tied to people holding specialized positions. The downside? Each task gets but a fraction of the time it deserves – and requires.
According to the Harvard Business Review, outsourcing is one of the most important management ideas and practices of the last 75 years. Companies using outsourcing cite innovation as their number one reason for bringing in a fresh perspective to key company functions. Business owners and executives say they derive these four benefits from outsourcing:
- Outsourcing allows companies to focus on what they do best – their own core competencies.
- Companies achieve greater efficiencies without adding people or technological resources.
- Outside expertise helps companies become more profitable, thereby increasing company or shareholder value.
- Outsourcing offers increased service levels within company functions.
One of the most critical functions in a company – especially one transitioning through one of the growth phases – is that of the financial officer. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) typically focuses on how efficiently a business is operating. While some business owners view this function as a reporting function – one where the CFO merely is a score keeper of how well the business already has performed, that’s just where CFO duties begin.
A CFO takes the historical financial data (also known as financial statements and other typical recording reports), combines that information with operating practices, and analyzes areas where the company could – and should – make changes that affect profitability, productivity and efficiency. The CFO with top-notch business sense can dramatically impact a company’s bottom line.
Companies nearing the half million up to the $5 million revenue mark often find they can benefit from the services of a seasoned CFO, but can’t – or don’t want to – afford the $125,000+ these professionals typically demand for a salary. Some business owners, realizing that they do not have the resources to hire a full-time CFO, simply accept this and vow to grow their businesses so they can hire a CFO in the future. Smart business owners recognize that if they want to reap the benefits of an experienced, results-producing CFO, they must look for a more creative way to do it.
These smart entrepreneurs regularly make outsourcing work for them. They understand the importance of leveraging their money while obtaining critical tools for success. Many times, the cost savings accompanying qualified CFOs makes the decision that much easier.
Outsourced CFOs sell their time by the hour or on a monthly basis -four to eight hours a month, for example, at an agreed-upon fee. CFOs can isolate areas of concern that the business’s accountant wouldn’t (and possibly couldn’t) detect until tax time. Even the closest accounting advisor isn’t privy to day-to-day business practices.
CFOs can have a positive affect on the outcome of major business decisions. For instance, companies facing reorganizations or mergers need to have access to real numbers associated with these events. They also need to know how to leverage available resources with company debt. Skilled CFOs handle these issues regularly and can bring much-needed expertise to company owners and executives as they make short- and long-term decisions.
Other areas offer opportunities as well. Purchasing agreements sometimes can hurt the well-intentioned company manager. If a company makes larger purchases because of negotiated lower prices on products and the trade off is a shorter pay schedule, CFOs can isolate this scenario as the key reason why a company could constantly be in a cash crunch.
Finding a qualified CFO may be as far away as a phone call to your CPA or accountant who offers outsourcing as a credible service component for companies like yours. Today, some firms offer the services of experienced CFOs who have retired and now work as temporary workers – much like you would hire a secretary on an as needed basis. Whichever route you take, financial matters aren’t the only areas where an outsourced CFO can lend advice. CFOs can help your business in several critical areas including:
- choosing appropriate accounting software,
- deciding whether leasing or buying equipment is best,
- how to compensate company officers,
- how to handle company collections,
- how to handle cash flow and how to balance company debt with receivables, and
- how systems can be improved to improve productivity.
While hiring a CFO for a short amount of time may get you past a cash flow crunch, help secure a much-needed loan or initiate systems that increase productivity, experts agree that to get the most out of your investment, you should commit to your outsourced CFO arrangement for at least a year. An experienced CFO often can impact your business in less time than an average work day or approximately eight hours.
If you are a business owner currently functioning as CFO, think of all the things you can do with your leveraged time.
- Spend time with valued customers to ensure their continued business.
- Attract and win new business.
- Develop new products or services.
- Work on operational or financial projects to make your business more profitable or accelerate its progress toward your growth goals
Bottom line: the choice to outsource comes down to dollars and sense. When companies add a CFO’s salary to a benefits package complete with annual bonuses, the price tag is high. And, not all CFOs are equal- navigating the maze of available CFOs can leave you dazed and confused. Keep in mind that CFOs possessing business performance management knowledge add an extra dimension that positively affects other areas of your company, including productivity, operating efficiencies and internal systems.
It takes time to make the decision to outsource a critical management position. Aligning company growth goals with the operating budget, and comparing that to the benefits an outsourced CFO can bring to the picture, enables you to determine if outsourcing is right for your company. If you still aren’t sure, call your accounting business advisor to discuss the pros and cons of this type of arrangement.
Author: Mark Ferguson