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The Alternative Board Blog

The Unlikely Profit Center

Nov. 25, 2019 | Posted by Rick Arthur
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If you’ve never thought of your finance and accounting departments as profit centers, you’re not alone. In my experience, most companies don’t do a great job of planning for how their accounting functions will support their profitability instead of operating simply as overhead – a necessary evil.

Most entrepreneurs do not start businesses because they are experts in finance and accounting. Entrepreneurs are the visionaries. They have a product or service that they are bringing to life. Rarely do they find themselves excited about the accounting part of the business. Sure, they want to be profitable, but how they manage the nuts and bolts is often foreign.

Here is a typical evolution of a start-up’s accounting functions. You’ll see that it’s often driven by some internal or external need.  It may look something like this:

Phase 1: The Business is Started
Things are in motion, and sales may or may not have been made. Bills need to be paid and money needs to be invoiced and collected from customers.

Phase 2: The Business Is Starting to Grow
Customers are acquired and the company must start looking at revenues and expenses beyond simply tracking payables and receivables.

Phase 3: Time for a Better Tracking Mechanism
QuickBooks is purchased and set up quickly, but not correctly. (Well, at least you have QuickBooks in place, right?) Wrong.

Phase 4: Tax Time!
The entrepreneur needs help and secures a CPA to file the company’s tax return. The CPA reviews QuickBooks and revises the chart of accounts to classify income and expenses in order to file tax returns.

Phase 5: The Business is Growing – Time to Expand
It’s time to borrow money and the bank is looking for the company’s financial statements. That includes the Balance Sheet that you’ve probably never looked at, let alone understood.  Time for a bookkeeper!

Phase 6: The Business Continues to Grow – But Something is Out of Whack
Your part-time bookkeeper is costing you too much. …more transactions equals more time equals more cost. This fixed overhead cost is not contributing to revenue.

Phase 7:  More Fixed Overhead?
As the business continues to grow, you add an additional bookkeeper, accounts payable, accounts receivable and/or inventory clerk. Now, that’s even more fixed overhead!

Phase 8: Something is Missing
When fixed overhead contributes little if anything to your company’s profit, it’s time to take a hard look at how you’ve set up your structure.

What if the finance and accounting departments were contributing to the profit of the business?  What would that look like? Most transactions are processed in the accounting department. That is “information” that can be converted to “knowledge”….we are in the Information Age.

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Here’s how the picture looks when you’re orchestrating an accounting profit center:

  • You receive regular, timely, and accurate financial statements with variances (i.e. exceptions)
  • You are comfortable reading, analyzing and interpreting your financial statements, including all-important Statement of Cash Flows
  • You’re able to use your understanding of the financials to improve decision-making, and validate previous decisions
  • You’re able to make adjustments in your business earlier because of this information
  • You’re getting your financial and operational Key Performance Indicators regularly
  • You’re receiving forecasted cash flow projections regularly

Most business owners can make better decisions for their company when:

  1.  They have timely and accurate financial information
  2. They know what to expect from their accounting/finance department
  3. They leverage that timely information and turn it into knowledge

That’s what shifts the accounting function into a profit center. A profit center works for you, helps you grow, and doesn’t just exist simply to track information the way unproductive overhead might.

If you’re ready to start thinking of your finance and accounting departments as profit centers, there are specific ways I can help. It’s a step-by-step process that will empower you with the financial intelligence you need to make your vision a reality.

Are you ready to turn your accounting overhead into a finance profit center?

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Written by Rick Arthur

Rick Arthur is a CFO whose expertise is built on Financial Intelligence and 35 years in senior financial roles. Coupled with a CEO’s perspective and the experience of building his own $20 million company, he brings a unique depth of insight into business from the top down. Wired to get to know people, Rick works hand-in-hand with business owners of intentional, growth-oriented companies, solidifying relationships as a trusted advisor and confidant to his clients. He leverages his experience to help business owners gain traction and stay laser-focused on the company’s vision, cash flow, and profitability – all while creating big picture solutions for strategic planning, growth and sustainable success.