In my experience working with middle-market business owners, I have often observed that many of them underestimate the importance of having access to solid and timely financial information and support from great finance professionals to guide their daily decision-making and strategic planning. Having seen companies and managers suffer the consequences of this risky practice, I have confirmed that it is critical to have the right financial support and infrastructure in place.
Why is this true? For one thing, many of today’s middle-market business owners may have started out with a spouse or other family member managing the company’s books and records on a part-time basis. However, as their companies begin to grow, it is important to determine whether people with different skills, sophistication and qualifications should be hired on a part-time or full-time basis, or whether those functions should be outsourced. Additionally, they must continuously evaluate and modify those roles and the personnel fulfilling the responsibilities as their businesses continue to evolve.
Middle-market companies may utilize different kinds of financial officers, such as certified public accountants, controllers and bookkeepers. Each of these professionals possesses different skill sets and sophistication relevant to providing financial data and information as well as managing relationships with banks, lenders, and suppliers, negotiating financial terms, dealing with customers in terms of reporting systems, providing financial oversight and strategic planning, etc. Depending on your needs, you may need finance professionals with more or less expertise and knowledge.
As you grow, you will need higher-level counsel and access to more information. It may become necessary to upgrade from a bookkeeper to a controller or from a controller to a chief financial officer, or even a CPA. Some individuals can step up to effectively assume the new roles, but other times you may have to bring in more experienced professionals. Outside consultants can also supplement or fill voids.
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Many business owners get into trouble or lose potential opportunities because they didn’t have access to the right financial information on a timely basis. Again, the key is to take this seriously, accurately assess the level of expertise you need and hire accordingly. Staying ahead of the curve is always best. While some investment might sometimes be required, it will seem cheap in the long run when you reap the benefits.
Financial reporting should be done on a regular basis — daily, weekly or monthly. Developing appropriate flash reports and a dashboard is important. This will enable you to know — on a real-time basis — how your business is running and position yourself to make any necessary adjustments efficiently. Today, data analytics and business intelligence are crucial. Getting a first-quarter report at the end of the second quarter is not only virtually pointless — it can seriously hurt you because it may be too late for you to act. For some companies, obtaining an audit may be appropriate. While often costlier than a compilation or review, audits are valuable because they may be required by your lenders and can be helpful when you try to sell your business. Audits also bring a certain discipline to companies.
The types of financial management systems you put in place are important, too. Do you go with QuickBooks, QuickBooks Pro, or the more robust and sophisticated Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains), or other software solutions to obtain financial information and manage payroll, inventory, sales and other needs? Depending on your line of business, a fully integrated system that brings together your financial system with your inventory and other key aspects of your business can be important.
Beyond supporting your daily business operations, having the right support from finance professionals and the right financial information in place upfront is important as you prepare for growth or a merger or acquisition. I’ve often seen business owners scrambling to come up with information at the last minute, which has put them at a disadvantage in negotiations. In a sale process, for example, not having the necessary information at the right time can negatively impact what potential buyers may be willing to pay for the business. Outside consultants like South Florida-based SCA Group can be helpful.
While it may be tempting to focus solely on running the day-to-day operations of your business, it is critical to keep in mind that your ultimate success depends on how well you manage the company’s finances. By investing the necessary time and resources from the outset, you can put your business in the best position for continued growth and success.
James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. LLC, an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or via LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel. His website is casselsalpeter.com.