Written by Charlotte Newman, Compleat Software: We understand that not all SMEs employ a full time Financial Director (FD), but whether you currently outsource this function, have someone part-time or indeed, have a whole finance team headed up by an FD, the role they play within growing SMEs is not only important, but is one which is rapidly evolving.
The role is quite unique. It requires involvement in a breadth of activities across all areas of the business, which is just not possible within larger organisations.
No longer based around audits and compliance alone, the role now requires the FD to provide businesses with strategic insight and advice, which goes beyond just the numbers, providing critical support with an alternative perspective. They must also act as mediator between the rest of the board, shareholders and investors, managing relationships and of course, setting expectations.
This less traditional role (forget any prior stereotypes about people in finance!) requires increased focus on scaling the business, particularly important where there is rapid growth, or if there hopes to be! Responsibilities generally include cutting costs, increasing profitability, improving operational efficiencies, whilst strategising to scale and diversify.
We understand therefore, that the job of the modern FD is not an easy one! With increasing strain on the SME market, it’s important that FD’s are able to keep up with all ‘typical’ responsibilities, while ensuring time and money is still available and allocated to growth promotion activities, but in many businesses the finance department can often feel like they’re constantly playing catch up!
So, how can SME FDs keep up or, more importantly, get ahead of the curve?
Review internal processes:
Always start with what’s going on within the finance team. Ensure the time of financial staff is utilised efficiently so that statutory requirements are being fulfilled on time. Avoiding delays removes the risk of fines and frees up time for more important and valuable financial activities.
No one can be all things, to all people, at all times. Prioritise what actually requires an FD stamp on it and delegate where possible. Adopt budget holder management in order to share visibility across the business, ensuring both sides (finance and budget holders) are reading from the same page and communicating about where money is being spent within the business.
Embrace automation and technology:
Whether you like it or not, the fourth industrial revolution is well underway and AI and machine learning looks to alter or replace a lot of administrative or data entry based roles. Upskill current staff where feasible and engage with a system which allows you to finally remove any remaining paper processes which are currently slowing down the running of the finance department day to day; approval of invoices, dealing with supplier queries etc.
Prioritise cash flow:
We all know that cashflow is king in SMEs and therefore managing cash flow and forecasting must be top of the priorities list. Stay on top of your cash flow by streamlining internal purchase to pay processes. Finance and budget holders need to be able to make decisions based on real-time facts, for which you need to utilise a unified system.
Ultimately, the “unsung hero” that is the SME FD carries a lot of weight on their shoulders, but no one should drown under the weight of responsibility. Put simply; plug the gaps, drive efficiencies, improve general spend management and take time to learn about the products that are available to help. Get back on track to ensure your business is not just surviving, but thriving!
Written by Charlotte Newman, Compleat Software. Exhibiting on stand 460 at Accountex 2018.