For the average small business, it’s common for the owner or principal to take responsibility for the company’s accounting needs.
At first, that makes good sense. When striving to get a new venture off the ground, resources are often limited, and there’s just no reason to go through the trouble or expense of hiring a dedicated employee to handle the company’s finances. As the operation grows, however, a day will come when the accounting needs of the business grow beyond the owner’s capabilities.
In truth, growing businesses will go through several distinct phases when it comes to their accounting needs and practices. Knowing what they are and what kind of staff is required at any given point is vital to ensuring the proper operation of the business and to avoid any unpleasant financial surprises.
To help businesses of all sizes make these all-important staffing decisions, here’s a guide to the different phases in the financial life of a growing business after the owner-accountant beginnings and who they’ll need to manage them.
The Bookkeeper Phase
A survey of small business owners revealed that 58% of those putting in 60 or more hours per week named bookkeeping as their most draining task. That alone is enough to illustrate exactly when it’s the right time for the owner to turn over control of the company’s books to a dedicated employee. For the most part, this is when a small business should take on a bookkeeper on a part-time or full-time basis, as needed.
The bookkeeper will function as something of a financial recorder, leaving the financial strategy still under the owner’s control. They will, however, bring knowledge which will help the business in the following areas:
- Payroll, tax withholding, and insurance
- Monitoring monthly costs and avoiding unnecessary expenditures
- Keeping all accounts payable up to date
- Preparing tax forms and making required payments to relevant tax authorities
Generally speaking, a business will need a bookkeeper once they have completed a full year of operations. If the business expands quickly right after launch, however, that time could be cut down significantly.
The Controller Phase
The next financial phase that a typical business will enter happens when the owner no longer has the time or the expertise to remain the sole financial decision maker for the business. At that point, it’s customary to expand the company’s accounting staff to offload the work. The expansion normally includes a dedicated employee that handles accounts payable, another for accounts receivable, and a manager for the department, known as a controller. A controller takes on the role of managing the accounting staff, but also provides insight and analysis of the company’s finances to management, including the owner. They’ll also institute inventory controls and conduct internal control audits to prevent fraud, theft, and other malfeasance. A typical controller will have around ten years of professional experience and hold a Bachelor’s degree in business management or accounting. They are also often one of the first managerial hires of a growing company.
The CFO Phase
The final evolution of a typical business’s financial operations comes when they’ve grown to a point that they require a dedicated professional to construct a forward-looking financial strategy to carry the organization to the next level of success. That person is known as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Once hired, the CFO assumes responsibility for all aspects of the company’s financial dealings, reporting to the owner, CEO, or board of directors, depending on the structure of the business.
Their job extends well beyond that, however. A CFO also has a direct say in the operation of the business, having veto power over all expenditures. According to Novo Executive Search and Selection, it’s also a role that has evolved significantly in recent years, with a shift from a traditional budgeter and forecaster, to that of a strategic leader.
For example, the remit of many CFO roles has grown to include having an understanding of the latest in fintechand a wide range of issues related to sustainability, digital risk management, and asset management.
A Thriving Enterprise
At several points over the life of a business, there will be a need to adapt to maintain a high-level of financial control and management. Any business that grows to a level that it becomes necessary to hire a CFO can be sure that they’ve run a tight ship and made good decisions along the way.
Before that day, however, business owners and managers must take care to always put the company finances in the care of the right people at the right times.
Failing to do so can stunt the growth of the business, and in extreme cases, even lead to failure. Now that the phases of financial growth are clear, as well as which professionals are needed to deal with them, it’s all a matter of execution – which should be the specialty of any good entrepreneur in the first place.