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The CFO's Guide to Overcoming SMB Back Office Headaches​

The job of a modern CFO is full of challenges. He or she is responsible for forming an ideal operating model, dealing with competitive pricing and positioning a company for long-term growth. While many of these hurdles are consistent regardless of company size, they are especially true at small or medium-sized businesses where every dollar counts.

We spoke with three SMB finance professionals to learn more about the most difficult tasks they encounter in their daily work and the strategies and technologies they use to overcome common back office headaches.

Pierre Tremblay: CFO and co-owner of Dupray

What are the most frustrating or challenging tasks you encounter as CFO?

One of the most challenging tasks I deal with is related to accounts payable and completing transactions less than $100. We have hundreds of these per month, and they require a significant amount of attention and effort. Quantity and volume is always an issue.

Another frustrating task I face is the constant need to invalidate expense reports. About a month ago, one of our sales executives expensed a parking ticket he received in a city 400 miles away during a long weekend! There's a huge personal component to this, but you need to constantly make minor decisions about expenses related to everything.

What strategies or technologies do you use to overcome these difficulties and accomplish these tasks?

We now automate many of the small amounts for the accounts payable process. Many of these small transactions take place on a scheduled basis with very trustworthy clients and business partners. We decided automation was the best solution to dealing with the plethora of transactions.

Fixing expense reports is a work in progress. My first piece of advice is to set clear boundaries. The other component is to force your employees to collect receipts, which they are singularly responsible for scanning and entering into a database. Having a team of people who are responsible for different parts of the process also helps.

Have you developed or encountered any innovative solutions that are useful to help complete these tasks?

Automation, automation, and more automation. At the end of the day, the more laborious tasks you can automate, the easier your life will be. You can essentially automate any labor-intensive task within the financial realm. The key is to take an executive overview position to ensure quality and accuracy.

Don Wright: Financial consultant for small and emerging growth companies

What are the most frustrating or challenging tasks you encounter as CFO?

One challenging task is streamlining the month-end closing process to provide quick and accurate financial and management reports, which is essential for managing any business. Another is developing processes that minimize the amount of human interaction with financial data such as payroll information, customer billing, invoice processing, revenue recognition, and cash management.

What strategies or technologies do you use to overcome these difficulties and accomplish these tasks?

As much as is practical, I use interconnected software applications such as automated time and attendance, expense report processing, invoice approval and processing, online bill pay systems and automated zero-based accounts (ZBAs) to improve day-to-day accounting functions. This helps minimize human processing and improve the overall efficiency of the department.

Have you developed or encountered any innovative solutions that are useful to help complete these tasks?

Many smaller companies use QuickBooks for their accounting system, which is fairly robust but can have limitations in the reporting and budgeting areas. We've simplified the month-end consolidation process and streamlined the actual recording of invoices by using the Class code function in QuickBooks as a substitute for the various entities to produce a consolidation report.

Paul Marshall: CEO and SVP of Operations at Influitive

What are the most frustrating or challenging tasks you encounter as CFO?

The most challenging aspect of being a CFO in a fast-paced, high-growth startup is ensuring that we have a clear front windshield. It's important to understand and interpret the numbers to illustrate where things can be improved and surface those opportunities so we are driving into future months, quarters, and years with proper visibility.

What strategies or technologies do you use to overcome these difficulties and accomplish these tasks?

The key strategies are ensuring that you have a clear understanding of what your metrics are. There is no shortage of data, numbers, tools, technologies, and acronyms in our—and most—business environments. Understanding the few that really matter and focusing on using them to learn, improve, and steer the business forward is critical.

Have you developed or encountered any innovative solutions that are useful to help complete these tasks?

Some tools and technologies are clearly better than others, but like all technologies they are most effective when they are used as part of an initiative that is balanced and rooted in strong people. Having knowledge, training and strong processes in place will ensure things are optimized, efficient and repeatable is key.


Rian Ervin is a freelance journalist and writer with experience in emerging and enterprise technologies.

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