By David Worrell, AllBusiness.com, 12/27/2011
Few positions in a company are as easily outsourced as those in the finance department. That’s great news for small companies looking to add strategic skills, and for larger companies looking to cut full-time staffing costs.
Nearly every company can save money while expanding its team of key decision makers and strategic support by outsourcing key finance positions.
Outsource the Right Positions
You probably already outsource your tax preparation, either corporate or personal or both. Because taxes are generally a once-a-year event, having an expensive accountant on staff year round is usually not cost effective.
The same might be true of a chief financial officer, an analyst, a controller, and even a bookkeeper. If you don’t need these people every day, you can easily outsource these positions. The extent to which you outsource your finance department depends on the volume of transactions, the complexity of your finances, and the amount of management information (decision support) you want.
Find the Right Firm
Firms offering outsourced finance personnel are quite common, from large national firms such as B2B CFO and Tatum to teams of just a few consultants working virtually. Search the terms “fractional CFO” or “part-time CFO” to get a good selection.
Before bringing on a virtual finance team, be sure you have defined your needs. There is a huge difference between a good accountant and a strategic finance professional. If you have, or will have, a need for more than one role, consider hiring a firm that can provide more than one person on an as-needed basis. Splitting duties between unrelated contractors is likely to cause more confusion than it’s worth. Even a small firm with three to five professionals will be able to provide the skills you need while keeping the communication tight and the work streamlined.
Maximize the Value
Getting the most from an outsourced finance person is more about good communication and regular meetings than anything else. Set a weekly meeting and follow a regular agenda, making sure issues from previous weeks are resolved and new issues are discussed. In between, a good finance team should invite you to call or e-mail as often as you want. The more information you share with them, the more they can help you.
But communication works two ways. Early in the relationship, establish an expectation for weekly or monthly reports. After all, the core value of the finance department is to provide you, the business owner or manager, with the information you need to grow the business. Whether this is a complete finance dashboard or a simple snapshot of work done, be certain that you are getting regular feedback. Let the finance team build one from scratch, or try an online system such as ProfitSee, Praedx, or Birst.
Finance pros who interact with bank accounts and accounting software need to be particularly well-connected to the company’s resources. If you are not already set up to handle virtual employees, ask your new finance pro to bring remote software solutions, web-based project management systems, and other collaboration tools that will bridge the gap.
Consider giving your finance team the full responsibility for keeping the QuickBooks file offsite, or opt for a “hosted” solution such as Personable or QuickBooks Online.
One often overlooked skill of good finance people is their ability to systematize everything. Whether it’s reporting or bookkeeping, the amount of work you need from your new team should actually decrease over time as they put procedures and processes in place.
A good bookkeeper, for example, can keep up with an average $5 million company in about one day a week once things are running smoothly. A good CFO might only be needed for an hour-long call each week, or a once-monthly strategy meeting.
The upfront investment in recruiting, reporting, technology, and training will pay long-term dividends as your finance department supports and enhances company growth.