“I’m good,” said the CEO. “We’re in pretty good shape. I have a good handle on things. I mean, we could always do things to improve, but just on the margin.”
“Okay. That’s great,” I told him. “It sounds like you have built some good durability in your back office. Do you mind if I share some experiences I’ve seen and get your reaction?”
“Sure thing,” he said.
Okay, let me go off script here for a second. An interesting dynamic emerges when you engage with a business owner on accounting and finance. It’s complicated, but here is my general observation of most discussions I’ve had with CEOs:
- They’re hesitant to share that their lack of confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of their transaction flows.
- They know that accounting/finance, while important, is not strategically critical (compared to, say, driving growth) so a “fine back office” is typically “good enough” for most leaders.
- Finance is not typically a “genius zone” activity for most CEOs, so they don’t know what they don’t know—which makes the status quo seem acceptable.
And that’s not a judgement call! In fact, these are totally reasonable positions to take. The problem is that if you don’t know that a bigger problem (or opportunity) may exist, you’ll never realize how finance data can catapult your business to new heights of success.
So I put together something I call the POWERMETER to help CEOs self-assess whether they’re using their financial data to be the most confident business leaders they can be.
I’m going to give you a brief taste of the POWERMETER so you can get a sense of where you fall. Remember, the Powermeter is about being in a particular “state.” You are in control of identifying where you’re at and making the commitment to move to your desired state if you’re not there yet.
WHERE ARE YOU ON THE POWERMETER?
Here is a breakdown for you to assess for yourself where you are on the Powermeter.
When you are PASSIVE, you don’t have data to make decisions so you are driven primarily by your gut. Here is what passive looks like:
- Financials are not consistently closed monthly.
- Your accounting is cash-based so you don’t know your inherent company profitability.
- You don’t share your financial data with others because it’s not accurate or actionable.
- You make decisions about investments based on what you think you “should” do—but the decision is not based on data.
- You don’t have any documented processes for your back office, which makes you vulnerable to losing the person who oversees it.
- Your chart of accounts isn’t laid out to tell you anything about your margins at a service line level.
- You have no budget or forecast process in place.
- You feel: nervous.
When you’re in a PERCEPTIVE state, you have a sense of what you need. You might have a bit of data, but overall you still rely too much on your gut. Here is what perceptiveness looks like:
- You are getting monthly financials, but don’t know the key questions to ask.
- You have an accounting partner, but your relationship with them is transactional instead of strategic.
- You use accrual-based accounting and can see your intrinsic profitability.
- You ask questions to get underneath the data, but the supporting detail is hard to access.
- You have a clean chart of accounts, but your allocations aren’t painting a useful picture.
- You have implemented time tracking (if applicable), but it’s not being used for analysis.
- You have some documented processes, but they are rarely referenced.
- You have a budget in place, but it is top down (e.g., we want to grow 15% next year).
- You feel: anxious but excited.
MOST COMPANIES ARE IN EITHER A STATE OF PASSIVE OR PERCEPTIVE.
Eventually, some cross the chasm to…
When you’re PROFICIENT, you have your core data dashboards and your team is starting to evaluate the data for decision making. WARNING: It’s easy to slip back into a PERCEPTIVE state from here, because your systems are still pretty manual and require a decent amount of work before they’ll be truly data-driven. Here is what proficiency looks like:
- You are meeting monthly with your accounting team and reviewing the data.
- You have good process in place, but it’s easy to slip back into bad habits.
- Teams are tracking time, but you’re still not convinced the data is accurate.
- You are increasingly confident in being able to use data in client conversations.
- Data is shared more liberally with your team so they can help drive decision making.
- You have a budget in place, but the tracking to actuals is spotty and you’re not re-forecasting.
- You feel: calm and clear.
Being proficient is great—but it’s still not where you truly want to be. You want to be POWERFUL.
Becoming POWERFUL is…
- The pathway to working on your business (vs. in your business).
- Gaining enough confidence in your data that you can be a coach and guide others because you have the facts.
- Feeling informed enough to make good data driven decisions.
- Knowing where you stand in building equity value and wealth in your business.
When you’re POWERFUL, you get the data you need when you need it. You have the ability to drill down into it to ask smarter questions about your business. Here is what power looks like:
- You have access and insight into customer level profitability.
- You use well-designed processes to identify/improve breakdowns.
- You have a budget in place and consistently measure it against actuals.
- You are re-forecasting on a quarterly basis.
- You meet consistently with your accounting team and create action plans (with owners and due dates).
- You integrate data into your client conversations to course correct as necessary.
- You use data to drive strategic investment and customer acquisition decisions.
- You feel: powerful and decisive.
Where are you on the Powermeter? What is it costing you?
Where do you stand on the Powermeter? Are you where you want to be? Where are the gaps? What is it costing you?
When you’re on the low end of the Powermeter, you are sacrificing growth, cash flow, culture, and…confidence. Here is how developing more power helps:
- Growth: You can accelerate growth when you know the types of clients that are most profitable. You know your pricing scheme and whether there is room to drive it higher without losing prospects. Your team sees the same data that you do, so they can be part of ideating on opportunities for acceleration. You have goals!
- Cash Flow: You are improving your profitability at a customer level. You are better at analyzing your overhead and know what is required to support your growth. You understand your cash conversion cycle and how to shorten it and collect cash faster so you can invest.
- Culture: Cultures of transparency create connectedness to a cause. When employees feel that the foundation of the building is solid, they are more confident in driving their area of responsibility without fear.
- Confidence: Confidence is a state of mind that comes with a knowledge that, while there is always room to improve, the core function of finance is sound and operating without anxious oversight. That confidence gives the business leader more mental space to focus on growth.
If you’re not able to create an environment where financial data can be captured, disseminated, analyzed, and acted upon, there is a leadership vacuum in place. When you cross the gap into Proficiency and Powerful, you’ll see disproportionate value in growth, culture, cash flow, and confidence.
So how do you get to be Powerful?
First, the most important thing is to celebrate where you are. You see it. You know it. We have served hundreds of clients over many years and consistently see clients fall into these areas of the scale. Often, there isn’t even an awareness that a concept of a Powerful state could exist. For many, living in the state of Perception feels like the mountaintop—but it’s a false summit. There is more room to grow and we’re committed to supporting you in getting there.
“I had no idea that I had so much more room to develop and make strategic use of my financial data in driving my culture and my bottom line,” said the CEO.
“That’s the idea,” I said. “When you see the power that is available to you, it’s a real call to action. Let’s go there.”
Stride bookkeeping/accounting and CFO Advisory services are designed to help our clients move up on the scale or (if you’ll please allow the pun), to stride ahead (no more puns, I promise). Our methodology is purpose built for power, to help CEOs harness data to make better business decisions while increasing their confidence that they can stay focused on getting into their genius zone and driving growth.
Here are a few power moves we have enabled for companies:
Industry: Managed Service Provider
Desire: Help me understand which clients are profitable or not so I can course correct those arrangements.
Solution: Stride implemented our business intelligence software, Stride Vista, pulling data from QuickBooks across multiple data tables to architect a client level profitability analysis.
Result: A targeted, focused approach to specific client re-negotiations.
Industry: Venture-backed online community
Desire: Give me glanceable visibility into my accounts receivable on enterprise contracts so we can collect faster.
Solution: Stride implemented a weekly, automated visual display for outstanding accounts receivable with drill-down capability to the invoice level, which informs the operating team who to reach out to so they can engage the client.
Result: A more confident leadership team that knows cash collection is a priority.
Industry: Venture-backed digital health company
Desire: Help me build up a financial forecast based on a new revenue source that we can use to set goals and raise capital.
Solution: Leveraging our CFO Advisory team, Stride built out a bottoms up financial model with various levers for sensitivity analysis to answer “what if” questions based on scenarios for the board of directors and investors.
Result: Client gained board support for its desired investment and successfully raised a financing round.
Industry: Pharmaceutical consulting company
Desire: Give us visibility into our cash requirements to support an accelerating growth rate.
Solution: Through a coordination of our accounting and CFO Advisory teams, we meet quarterly with the client to put together a specific cash forecast that solves for expected cash financing shortfall or surplus in a given month.
Result: Client has put in a place a line of credit to draw on and can move with confidence based on expected cash flow without surprises.
To learn more about how we help our clients Stride Forward and move up the scale to a place of power, reach out and let’s discuss. We’re here to support your power.