"I'm a CFO in a service company and sometimes, I have to say that I feel like I'm on my own!"
We sympathise with you, and even though we can't offer a miracle cure, here are some simple rules to follow. They come from work on the ground and are, therefore, pragmatic and can be applied rapidly.
But first and foremost, get out of your office and roll up your sleeves. Go and meet and talk with the operational staff who are in contact with clients. Get back in touch with real life, as it were...
Your choices are more likely to be accepted if they are practical!
Entering time spent and expenses claims per project is not an option!
Your company's BOARD asks you to make billing, revenue, liquid assets (no less!) more secure and reliable and the icing on the cake is that they want you to calculate outstanding amounts for reporting purposes. In order to do this, you have to set up a non-negotiable management rule: all time spent must be reported by all staff, without exception.
Let it be known - the right entry frequency is weekly! A ballpark figure at the end of the month is like trying to explain to the police what you were doing on the night of the April,16th 1986. Not very reliable...
Don't do the work of the business managers for them! Never forget that the people on the ground are the ones who know. Leave them to manage, reallocate analytically and decide on the "billable" nature of time spent. You can settle for reminding them to do it before the end of the month.
When it comes to expenses claims, the right frequency is monthly. Once again, this is a rule that applies to everyone, particularly when the expenses will be billed to clients.
Strangely, we noticed that there is usually very little delay when it comes to submitting expenses claims. On the other hand, the picture is often more complicated when it comes to time spent. Maybe employees take more care over their personal expenditure than how the company is managed?
In order to correct this anomaly, you can forbid the entry of an expense without time spent on the corresponding day, or block the payment of expenses as long as time spent is incomplete. It's coercive, but incredibly effective.
Skills and workload schedule: come out of the fog!
Have you ever driven a car in thick fog? It's not easy to see what's ahead and plan for what's to come. In order to ensure the production of deliverables ordered by clients and anticipate the impact of upcoming contracts, work out a weekly, or even daily, workload schedule, including absences.
You may have staff available, but do they have the right skills for the mission in question? You need to formalise, list and regularly update their skills. This will help you to define your training plan. It will also increase the employability of your staff and their billing rates.
Apart from the "operational" aspects, the project schedule is primordial for you as a CFO. For example, with project billing, you can automatically work out the rate of progress, billable works and hence the payment pending invoices and prepaid income at close for the recognition of revenue. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Since you don't like being caught unawares, if you bring together the workload, expenses claims, sub-contracting costs and time spent, you will then be able to:
- Calculate the project forecasting well upstream from the end,
- Identify any budget variances,
- If possible, initiate actions to put things back on track (contractual amendment) or allocate funds for losses at the end of the project.
Facilitate updates to the information system remotely.
How would you feel about going back to a pencil and paper to keep your accounts?
Most of the company's "billable" staff are on the move most of the time.
For all the above uses (monitoring requests for absence, the schedule, the entry of activity reports and expenses claims), it is therefore essential to provide them with ergonomic, intuitive and secure tools to enable them to update the business's information system remotely (and sometimes offline) in a timely manner.
Apart from the fact of being able to have easy access to the data required for their mission, as the CFO, you'll be determined to provide modern, "motivating" tools, particularly to younger staff like Millennials (and Post-Millennials soon). This should help you reduce staff turnover, which is becoming an issue in some sectors, and as a consequence increase the attractiveness of your company thanks to a better staff management in a service company.