Three possible support levels are available to make accounting easier, decisions wiser, and the business owner happier.
Quick! How much money do you have in the bank?
This is not a trick question. For some business owners, the answer to the question is easy. We asked Andrew, a prospective client, this question, and he opened his online accounting program (he uses QuickBooks®) and gave us a figure. Here’s the thing. It turned out to be wrong.
It happens. People start businesses because they like the product they’re making or the service they’re providing, but they never took a class in accounting.
So, while the business owner can do the accounting work themselves, they may want to outsource one or more of the accounting functions to be free to work in their business rather than on their business.
Here are the benefits: They can be sure their bills will be paid on time. They will know they have enough money to meet payroll. And they may still have some money left over for growing their business, have money to put aside in a retirement plan, and reach other financial goals.
Andrew might need a bookkeeper, but we need to define some of the accounting functions and then see what accounting support level is right for him.
Which level are you at now, and when can you step “up”?
Level 1: Bookkeeper: Details, details, details!
Like Andrew, you may have a bookkeeper (or a bookkeeping program) that captures the details of the many transactions that make a business a business. You have your basic income and expenses. Then it’s broken down into the details: cost of goods, utilities, rent, wages, and the list goes on. This accounting person could be you, the business owner, or a family member. Andrew does not have an accounting “staff,” and sometimes he cannot answer some basic questions. He may run out of time to enter the details into the program, or the family member who was willing (but not able) to handle all the transactions correctly, didn’t learn it, or had to leave suddenly.
It might be time to have someone come in periodically to help. We asked some other folks, too, and here are some of their comments.
“My niece was supposed to be in charge of the checkbook, but she ended up going away to college. I don’t have time to learn the accounting software, and I’m bouncing checks!” (This was Andrew, by the way.)
“I was trying to save money by doing my books myself, but I never seem to get around to it.”
“I received some sort of tax document and didn’t know what to do with it.”
“I know I’m making a profit, but I never seem to have any money.”
“I already have a bookkeeper, but I’d like them to have support and guidance to know what they should be doing regularly and if they’re doing it correctly.”
We told Andrew that a good bookkeeper could:
- Clean up your data and enter financial information
- Track and enter income and expenses, so you’ll know if you’re making money
- Pay bills so your suppliers will like you
- Create invoices, so you get paid on time
- Track and handle payroll so your employees will love you
The benefits of passing the BOOKKEEPER LEVEL:
You can be confident with the correctness of the basics. What if you realize you need different kinds of information so you can make some bigger decisions confidently?
What if you want to expand your business? Can you? Let’s see.
Level 2: Controller: “Cash-Is-King
The next time we spoke with Andrew, he had outsourced some of his bookkeeping. Someone comes in once a month to clean up any messes, assure bills are paid, customers are invoiced, and bank accounts are reconciled. Now his business has grown, and he needs to make some significant decisions.
Here’s what he asked:
“I’m thinking about expanding my business, can I do that?”
“I need to hire more employees, can I afford this?”
“I’m thinking about opening another office, what does that look like?”
We suggested another level of accounting—a controller type individual or another outsourced person who handles the activities below, most of which are designed to manage and project cash flow to answer Andrew’s questions.
A controller (whether in-house or outsourced) gives a present-tense view of the business as he or she:
- Creates and maintains accounting policies and procedures, including internal controls
- Oversees all accounting functions (including bookkeeping)
- Makes sure the bookkeeper’s work is accurate
- Takes (correct) data and creates a budget, from which they make cash projections and financial statements
- Ensures accurate and timely month- and year-end closings, and meets tax deadlines
- Stays connected with the bank on a routine basis
With his books up to date, accounting procedures in place and with the help of the controller, Andrew realized that expansion was possible, he hired a few more employees, but he needed more.
Level 3: CFO, Chief Financial Officer: “Where are we, and where are we going?”
Twelve months later, Andrew had some huge decisions to make. The outsourced controller had refined the cash-flow projections. Andrew needed to have some heavy-duty forecasting numbers to know if his visions for scaling up the business were realistic.
“Can I franchise?”
“Can I go international?”
“Can I compete with Amazon?”
A CFO would help to make these bigger, exciting, and visionary decisions become a reality. (You go, Andrew!) Outsourced CFOs are often more affordable than hiring a full-time CFO as your employee, because you do not need to pay benefits, etc. and, oftentimes you’ll have access to a team of accountants to help you, not just one person. Most importantly, they take all the data and help make decisions by forecasting short, medium, and long term future-oriented projections, and output risk-weighted scenarios that Andrew can assess based on his risk tolerance.
- Provides leadership and vision
- Uses data from financials to project long-term financial goals
- Is responsible for the company’s current economic conditions and its financial future
- Oversees the business development function in some companies
- Handles financing and banking relationships
- Oversees the Controller functions (helps with preparing a budget, cash flow projection,)
- Creates KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
- Sets quarterly financial meetings
- Manages and coordinates strategic planning functions with other C-level personnel
The Rest of the Story
Andrew had an outsourced CFO for a just over a year, and business has skyrocketed. When we chatted with him last, he felt that taking each step and building on the previous was key to his success. He also thought outsourcing and having the accounting company act as an advisor kept him on track. That helped manage his budget and kept his bookkeeper niece happy in her part-time capacity as a bookkeeper.
Not sure what level of outsourced accounting is right for you? Talk with us and find out.
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Disclaimer: This story is an amalgam of many “real” people. The names were changed to protect the innocent, and no animals were sacrificed in the making of this piece.