Building the Financial Team That Will Help Your Business Thrive

By Robin Lancaster

For many entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized business owners financial management is one of the most challenging aspects of running their business. For some it makes sense to hire knowledgeable staff to manage financial processes internally; for others, contract services make more sense. So what are the different financial roles and services available, and what can they do for your business? I’d like to help define three roles—Bookkeeper, Controller, and Chief Financial Officer—and talk a bit about the different ways these roles can support your company’s overall growth, health, and wellbeing.

Your bookkeeper keeps you organized by entering all the data of your daily transactions into your database. She tracks all your invoices and receipts, cuts checks for you, bills your customers, reconciles your bank accounts, and does your payroll, all with a smile!

The controller manages the workflow of the finance department, keeping up on all cash flow needs, and helping to set up efficient financial systems. She creates tools for analyzing when you might have a shortfall, and advises you when you need to take advantage of a line of credit. She makes sure the accounts receivable are done in a timely manner and the bills don’t get paid too early.  Your controller will be your liaison to banks, tax agencies, and your Certified Public Accountant. Sometimes some of these tasks are blurred in smaller organizations.

Many small to mid-sized businesses don’t have a Chief Financial Officer; they feel the CFO role is too expensive, and why would a small to mid-sized business even need one? The CFO is there to help you with planning, projecting, measuring and tracking the financial and operational progress of your company. The CFO role creates complex financial projections that can aid in high-level strategic decision-making, and is an active player in the strategic management of the business. She allows you to focus on what you do best, and brings to your attention what you might not otherwise see in your numbers. In short, a CFO helps grow your business.

 Even if a full-time CFO seems out of reach for your business, having someone in that role who helps you see strategic possibilities in your numbers will give you an extra edge. In this situation you might consider hiring a contract CFO—someone who gets to know your business, but serves in the CFO role for a limited number of hours per week, per month, or per quarter.

Clarity can support you in building your team, whether through providing referrals to trusted contractors, providing oversight to your in-house staff, or helping you make sense of the numbers in a way that allows you to take your business to the next level ; we are your partner in designing financial health. Want to learn more? Contact us!

Independence & Interdependence: Best Apps for Integration & Efficiency

With the celebration of Independence Day, the team at Clarity has been thinking about the paradox and tension between independence and interdependence, as it relates to our families, communities, nonprofits, and businesses. 

There are so many great apps out there to help you track your time, money, projects, inventory, and customer/donor relationships. What are people using and loving these days? We decided to pull together a sampling that can serve as a good place to start your inquiry.

Finances

Write checks, create and send invoices, file your bills, all in an easy to use interface configured for your business, and accessible from any computer, tablet, or mobile device that has an internet connection. Interested, but overwhelmed by the prospect of switching from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online? Meet Liz!

FreshBooks: An accounting software alternative to QuickBooks if you have a simple, service-oriented business. It's not as robust or customizable, but may feel less intimidating to those who prefer a simple, intuitive tool for managing business or organizational books. Track finances, send invoices, track time, and capture expenses.

Digital Timesheets

TSheets: Eliminate paper time sheets and schedules! TSheets is a flexible, easy-to-use time tracker and scheduler filled with innovative tools to help you maximize your most valuable resource: time. It integrates seamlessly with Intuit's QuickBooks Online, Xero, Sage, Gusto & Square.

Project Management

Asana: Track projects, goals, workflows, and team collaboration; integrates with communications Apps like Slack, and document storage Apps like Dropbox and Box. The interface is flexible with customizable fields, and gives you a good visual dashboard.  

Basecamp: Well known and easy to use, Basecamp is streamlined and intuitive. It organizes your projects, internal communications, and client work in one place so you have a central source of truth. Pay per project, rather than per user. 

Other Apps for Productivity

Slack: Team Communications for the 21st Century. Organize team conversations in channels, chat one-one-one with team members, share documents, spreadsheets, photos, and more, and filter and find information quickly with powerful search of the indexed archive.

Wunderlist: Organize and share your to-do, work, grocery, movies and household lists. No matter what you’re planning, how big or small the task may be, Wunderlist makes it super easy to get stuff done.

With the right combination of integration tools, you can improve your business processes, streamline communications, boost efficiency, and save both time and money...giving you more independence through smart interdependence! 

10 Tips to Help You Stay on Top of Your Books

Whether you are outsourcing your bookkeeping or doing your own books in-house, as the leader in your organization you need to know your financial information is reliable.  Understanding "best practices" and incorporating them into your own business processes will help you get data you can trust, so you can make the decisions that are best for your business. 

Here are some tips to help you stay on top of the books:

1.     Get or stay involved!  Knowing what the system is and how it works helps keep you, the director of this show, in the know. A broad understanding of the way the books work will help you to make informed decisions regarding processes, and to understand the capabilities and limitations of the data. If you need education ask questions, do some research, or take a class.  Finances are not everyone’s favorite topic – but it is vital to the success of your organization!  And in particular, if you are a board member for a non-profit, it is part of your fiduciary responsibility to each donor.

2.     Make the most of the data.  The information that is being entered into your bookkeeping system is used fulfill state and federal requirements (taxes,) but what else are you using the data for?  Make the data work for you. Set up reports to help you zero in on areas that help you manage your organization.

3.     Have your processes documented.  Focus on the how as well as the what. We know that processes are often undergoing change as the way we do business changes, but it is important to document this as a protection for your organization. Updating this periodically is an opportunity to review and make adjustments as circumstances change.

4.     Never have your bookkeeper as a signer on your account.  Naturally, access to accounts is helpful, but there must be checks and balances and this is a big one. Have your bookkeeper manage the entry and classification of transactions, but allow for having another person to authorize the bill payments or payroll deposits. 

5.     Make sure you see the bank statement each month.  Are you familiar with all the activity you see?  All deposits, transfers and checks written?

6.     Check in with your tax professional mid-year or 3rd quarter in addition to tax time.  Your tax professional needs to know what is going on with your business so that if you need it, you have time to implement their recommendations to save tax dollars.

7.     Cross-train your staff. Plan for the unexpected! It is not unheard of to find yourself in a compromised position due to illness or sudden changes. Remember, this is a team – make sure you have some backup.

8.     Set a regular time to meet and review your financials.  Reviewing sales, projecting cash flow, estimating upcoming expenses and liability payments are some of the things you should be reviewing on a regular basis. This could be weekly, monthly, or something else, depending on your organization’s need. If it is a date with yourself, your in-house support or if you outsource the work, consistency creates a window of time where you know these items will be addressed and allows you to get on with your other tasks.

9.     Create systems to help your organization’s efficiency.  Something as simple as coding your transactions when they are approved relieves so much verbal communication – sometimes words can be misinterpreted, but a number is definitive.  Any effort made to streamline this work makes it more reliable and lets you get to other parts of business that need your attention.

10.  Provide your staff and yourself with support.  Invest in the time to explore how this part of your business can provide valuable information. Invest in documentation and processes to support and assist your mission. Invest in your staff to provide training to help them do the best job they can. 

Happy Spring!

Bring growth and vitality to your business with an infusion of energy, fresh ideas, and new knowledge--take a class, attend a workshop, and participate in a networking event. Perhaps you're ready to hire new staff, or even shift gears in your professional life. Piggyback on the natural energy boost that comes with lengthening days and warmer weather to spring into a new chapter of success with your business, nonprofit, or career. See a list of opportunities below!

Ready to Hire?

Already growing this spring? Clarity can help you recruit and hire new employees! We offer a full suite of Human Resources solutions; in addition to coordinating hiring activities, we can also help you develop new employee benefits programs, create employee handbooks, and protect you from liability. If you'd like to have a conversation about your human resource needs, contact us at (360) 385-9963, or hr@clarityei.com

Ready for a New Adventure?

Clarity is seeking a resourceful, experienced Finance Director/Consultant to work with a variety of non-profit and small business clients. Flexible schedule; we welcome applicants seeking part-time of full-time work. Accounting degree and senior financial management experience required; CPA qualifications and consulting experience a plus. Based in Port Townsend. Please send resume and cover letter including desired salary to hr@clarityei.com.

Upcoming Events

April 15thFree public screening and networking event featuring the film "Tomorrow," 1-5:30 pm at Chimacum HS Auditorium & Commons, 91 West Valley Rd, Chimacum. Conversation topics covered will include local food, energy, transportation, waste, education, health and wellness, affordable housing, emergency preparedness, environment/climate change and the local economy. For a taste of this inspiring movie, check out the trailer

Event sponsors include: Local 20/20, Chimacum School District, Port Townsend Film Festival, Rose Theatre and Students for Sustainability. 

April 17th: Jefferson County Chamber Lunch Meeting with Lorna Mann, Director of the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center. 12- 1 pm, Fort Worden Commons. "Tales from the VIC: Find out how a presence in the Visitor Information Center can help your business and hear some of the weird and wacky questions that the VIC fields 7 days a week."

April 18th & 19thStarting a Business & Business Planning, with Tina Flores-McCleese. 9:30 - 1:30, Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E 1st, Port Angeles. Part of the "Small Business Series" hosted by the Elwha Klallam Tribe. $25, or $75 for the whole series. Call 360-417-8545 x 2909 for more information or to reserve a seat.

Earth Day! Saturday, April 22, 2017. Consider rounding up your employees and commit to a few volunteer hours to support and build community. Volunteers are invited to help on several downtown Port Townsend cleanup/weeding and painting projects from 9 am to 12 noon. Contact the Port Townsend Main Street office at 360 385-7911 or email admin@ptmainstreet.org if you would like to volunteer for the Earth Day Spring Clean-Up activities – or organize something of your own nearer to home! 

April 24th: Marketing & Social Media for Your Business, with Courtney Nestler of Bright Light Solutions. 9:30 - 1:30, Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E 1st, Port Angeles. Part of the "Small Business Series" hosted by the Elwha Klallam Tribe. $25, or $75 for the whole series. Call 360-417-8545 x 2909 for more information or to reserve a seat.

May 1stJefferson County Chamber Lunch Meeting with Earll Murman & Jay Bakst. 12-1 pm, Port Townsend Elks Lodge. Learn about LEAN thinking, and the work that Earll and Jay have been doing to help grow a LEAN community in Jefferson County. 

May 8th: HR Basics: Managing the Human Side of Business, with Candace Monroe of Clarity Enterprises. 9:30 - 1:30, Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E 1st, Port Angeles. Part of the "Small Business Series" hosted by the Elwha Klallam Tribe. $25, or $75 for the whole series. Call 360-417-8545 x 2909 for more information or to reserve a seat.

May 9th: Jefferson County Chamber After Hours Mixer at the Port Townsend Library. 5:30 - 7:00 pm, PT Public Library. Come for networking, food, drinks, and fun!

May 15th: Advanced: Marketing & Social Media for your Business, with Courtney Nestler of Bright Light Solutions. 9:30 - 1:30, Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E 1st, Port Angeles. Part of the "Small Business Series" hosted by the Elwha Klallam Tribe. $25, or $75 for the whole series. Call 360-417-8545 x 2909 for more information or to reserve a seat.

May 17th2017 Washington State Nonprofit Conference, Bellevue Meydenbauer Center. Gather with over 700 nonprofit leaders from our state, and learn about increasing equity, staying current, and going green. To learn more and register, follow the link above.

May 30th: Advanced HR Solutions: Flexible & Creative Strategies to Manage Your People, with Candace Monroe of Clarity Enterprises. 9:30 - 1:30, Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E 1st, Port Angeles. Part of the "Small Business Series" hosted by the Elwha Klallam Tribe. $25, or $75 for the whole series. Call 360-417-8545 x 2909 for more information or to reserve a seat.

Year End Housekeeping

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s helpful to look ahead to the year-end financial tasks that January brings. If Clarity supports you with financial services, it is likely your representative has been gathering and entering this information into your system throughout the year. If, however, you have been in charge of your data, then this list should be a helpful guide for you to check your current information:

  • W2’s – Employee Information
    • Current Employee Addresses
    • All Employee Social Security #’s
  • 1099’s – All vendors who are not incorporated and who you have paid out $600.00 or more total for the year.
    • Current Vendor Addresses
    • All Vendor Tax ID#s
  • Begin reviewing your financial statements for year-end
  • Create a draft budget for 2017. If you don’t have a budget process in place Clarity would be happy to help you get squared away! Contact us for more information.

It's budget time!

Plan for budgets now!

As this year comes to a close I remember that endings always make me think about beginnings. They give me an opportunity to re-evaluate and to re-assess. I usually take this time of year to re-commit or newly commit the use of two of my available resources: time and money. I think about balance, I think about what I love and what I am missing. Then, I plan.

The process of planning always opens up a whole new world to me.

piggy-bank

Everything is a possibility and there are endless paths to take. Where do I want to travel? How much time do I want to take off?   How much time will I devote to piano lessons? Will I be able to increase the charitable donations I make? Do my kids really need the latest/greatest tablet? (Year two on list to Santa...)

Sometimes taking that first step feels overwhelming... But, I do love the idea of spending the month of December in Mexico. (I could play piano there, seek out a children's center to support... )

Welcome to the world of budgeting! You have possibilities, you have priorities and you have resources to spend to get where you are going. While you may feel at a loss to figure out where to start or how to find joy and possibility in the process - it all begins with the first step and re-framing any past perceptions of the task.

Really taking on budgeting for your organization can be more than rinse and repeat. It's your opportunity to put your plans for the upcoming year into action. It is the time to take a good hard look at what is working and what isn't, whether there is balance and whether you are heading down the path you really want to go. Your data already tells that story (or it should, anyway). Building your budget is the process of creating the story you are planning to tell.

So, let's get started!

Step 1: Dedicate the time

  • Make an appointment (or several) with yourself on your calendar to work on creating budget
  • Give yourself a treat, a special blend of tea, conducive music (something to make you look forward to the time)

Step 2: Create or use a template

  • Your system may allow exporting of your data in the desired format
  • You can use paper or excel spreadsheets that can be edited for your business
  • Computer programs like Excel can give you the added benefit of tying variable amounts to assumptions to calculate 'what if' scenarios more easily
  • Your budget should cover 12 to 24 months of business operation

Step 3: Start where you are, with what you know (Income, expenses, loan payments)      

  • Pull together historical info about each category by month
  • Review the comparison of budget versus actual. Make changes in your new budget document as needed

Step 4: Add what you are planning (changes known or predicted)

  • Do you need new categories?
  • Are there uses of cash to consider (asset purchases, loan repayments, etc)

Step 5: Ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you in alignment with your organization goals?
  • Does this budget reflect what you value most?
  • Are there trends (industry or seasonal) you can learn from or incorporate?
  • Are your ratios in line with industry standards?

Step 6: Tweak it until your income and expenses balance (this is the tough one)

  • Revisit and scrutinize all categories (Income and Expenses)
  • Shop your fixed expenses annually to see if you can find a better deal (phone, insurance, leases, etc)
  • If you provide health benefits, consider HSA/HRA's Flexible Spending
  • Work to reduce or eliminate debt to lower interest expense
  • Try to keep enough cash on hand to take advantage of discounts or good deals
  • Build in some cushion

The power of your budget is immense. Your budget causes you to think through how your organization is planning to fulfill the work ahead. It puts those plans and changes into black and white, making them real, actionable. Having numbers attached to your plans helps us put those visions and plans into action by giving us something to measure against as we begin to make progress.

Are you feeling inspired to do it right now? Good for you - go get 'em! If you feel like you need a little more to get going, or some further technical assistance, contact us – clarityei.com.


tina

Tina Flores-McCleese is the owner of Clarity, a firm providing financial consulting, workshops, one on one training, and grant management for non-profits and small businesses. Clarity helps non-profits and small businesses through organizational transitions with an eye towards the future, so your organization can accomplish what you really want to.
You can reach Clarity at 360-385-9963 x1, or www.clarityei.com