From a process perspective, Financial Management is the easiest and simplest business process to take care of no matter what business you're in. But it's often the most avoided and neglected area of any business. So why is that? Well, in my experience it often comes down to our fears around money.
The best way to tackle fear is by using knowledge. Not avoidance. I work with many clients who at first will try their absolute best to avoid looking at their numbers, or not paying attention to it, in the hope that it will go away. But unless we know where you're at right now, there's no way we can improve it. This is where putting together a financial management process and documenting this in a financial management operations manual can be of huge benefit both to yourself as a business owner and to your business!
The type of Financial Management process that I take clients through is a method that I devised because I was probably way behind where you are now. It comes down to understanding some simple systems that you can then enhance to build your very own financial management process. Then putting that knowledge into a financial management operations manual so that your financial records are maintained in a consistent manner that you can get the information you want.
I have to be very clear with you here. I am not an accountant. My understanding of financial management comes from learning the hard way - by it costing me a fortune to NOT know. So over time, I developed my financial know-how and then devised systems and procedures to help me to be able to better manage my business finances.
And by the way, I have always had great financial people on my team. But they are made great by the fact that I have a system that they follow. This ensures that my data is recorded in a consistent manner, and that I've got my finger on the pulse of my business by having all the right reports available at the right time.
Here's a quick high level checklist of what should be included in putting together your financial management process and operations manual:
1. ACCOUNTING ROLES: Clearly indicate who's responsible for your money in your financial management operations manual. Understand the different roles of people who are doing the numbers in your business. Be clear about the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant or financial manager and how each can benefit your business in the most cost effective way. Then put together job descriptions outlining who is responsible for what and how they interlink (or you can purchase complete job descriptions for your bookkeeper and financial controller at our website).
2. FINANCIAL REPORTS: Work out what reports you require to keep your finger on the pulse of your business - and then insist on receiving them on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Outline in your operations manual who is responsible for delivering these (this should be outlined in the job descriptions also!) and at what regularity. These reports should form the cornerstone of your business decisions. You can never have too much information.
3. YOUR ACCOUNTING SYSTEM: Many people rely on their bookkeeper or accountant to tell them what the best accounting system is to use. But don't just take this information at face value. Investing in an accounting system is a big investment over time. Research the initial investment cost of any recommended system, as well as the continual costs to upgrade the system from year to year. Also consider how many bookkeepers are trained in this system. There is no point is purchasing an accounting system that is cheap as chips if there is no-one able to use it. This will just result in paying top dollar for a specialized bookkeeper and potentially more costs down the track to convert over to a less specialized system!
4. PROFIT AND LOSS PROJECTIONS: Every year prior to the end of your financial year, you should be putting together a profit and loss projection of what you want your business to be doing. This provides you with important "what if" scenario planning. It's always better to know whether something is going to financially work before you embark on it!
5. BUDGETING: Budgets are the most known about and yet least used thing in most businesses. You should have an annual budget that has been derived from your Profit and Loss Projection then broken down into specific areas in your business. It also assists people (including your bookkeeper) in your business to know exactly what they can spend and what they can't. It's also an idea to ask your bookkeeper to enter the budget into your accounting system so that you can incorporate your budget into your Projected Versus Actual reports.
6. CASH FLOW ANALYSIS: I often get asked why a business is making a profit, but there's never any money to spend. This is because there is a difference between cash flow and profit. It is essential that you ask for a cash flow analysis each month at a minimum - weekly would be better! This ensures that you have enough money in your bank to pay people when money is due, and allows you to chase up faster those that owe you money.
7. CONTROLLING COSTS: To control costs in your business you should have a purchasing system in place. Ensure that not a dollar is spent in your business without a purchase order and incorporate this into your company policy document. Every bookkeeper I've ever known baulks at this idea because it's extra work for them. But at the end of the day, it keeps control over your money. With this system in place you will never have unexpected expenses arise that an employee has kindly organised for you.
8. ACCOUNTS PAYABLE: Outline and record in your financial management operations manual how your accounts are paid including the method and timeline. Also include any regular payments including direct debits, as well as other spending methods such as store cards or credit cards. Another tip is to include your petty cash system and employee (and director) expense reimbursement systems.
9. ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE: Often business owners think that it's common sense for a bookkeeper to know what to do in accounts receivable. But never for one moment think that your common sense is the same as your employees! Ensure that your financial management operations manual includes an overview of the system for dispensing goods and/or services, your credit terms, how to raise invoices and how to follow up on outstanding payments. I also encourage clients to include phone scripts on debt collecting in their operations manual so that there is no doubt as to how to handle clients. Nothing annoys a good client more than an accounts person chasing them for money and conversely, nothing annoys a business owner more than an accounts person who can't get a definite payment date!
10. BANK ACCOUNTS: Make sure that your financial management operations manual includes an outline of bank accounts, including GST accounts and who credit cards are issued to. Also include an overview of online payment systems. However NEVER include details on your PIN numbers. This should be divulged in person and never written down.
11. Other things to include in your financial management operations manual should include items such as Fixed Asset Register, Insurances, Depreciation Registers and End of Year Procedures. Although these are generally covered by your accountant at the end of the year, it should also be included in your financial management operations manual so that your bookkeeper and/or financial controller know what steps to take to prepare the information for your accountant.
12. DATA BACKUPS: Your money records are THE most important records in your business. Ensure that your bookkeeper is saving your records to a device that is stored externally to the computer. Include information on how to back up to this device in your financial management operations manual.
Putting together a financial management process and documenting it in an operations manual takes time and patience. In general you should allow yourself time to collate all the information to put together a draft manual, then time to fine tune it. Alternatively, if you are looking to source a ready made template that already outlines most of what you need, then have a look at our website http://www.innovabusiness.com.