The Big Smoke
Lachlan Grant, CEO of Sydney-based accounting and finance firm, Vital Addition, sat down with Paul Slezak of RecruitLoop and Nick Hedges from Resolve HR, recently to unpack some of the common assumptions about outsourced business consultants, and run through a few of the key benefits.
Slezak, who hosted the RecuitLoop Live discussion online, outlined a number of important questions SMEs should pose when considering whether or not an outsourced business function is the right fit for their company, like:
• How can an external specialist really understand your business?
• How can you trust an external party with your company’s internal issues?
• How dedicated is ‘dedicated’ when it comes to an external consultant?
“For anyone not in a position to have a dedicated HR or Finance Specialist on staff,” he explains, “it’s certainly worth considering engaging and expert HR consultant or an outsourced CFO, and aside from not having to add these two full-time salaries to a P&L, there are several benefits, obviously, to outsourcing these specialist functions, and that you’ve got someone on the end of the phone if an unexpected, urgent need arises.”
So will an external specialist ever truly understand your business?
From a finance perspective, Lachlan Grant believes there’s an inherent trust that an external advisor can provide, that is common in the finance and accounting world. Businesses come to Vital Addition really wanting their expertise – their opinions, their best practice – as they generally do not have that in-house.
Working to really understand a client’s business from a commercial point of view is vital for finance professionals, so that they can really add value and become an authentic ‘business partner’. Lachlan says he will always take the time to learn and understand a client’s business model, the vision, and strategy behind the business, pain points and assumptions, and (importantly) also challenge that as well, if he believe that is what’s required.
For many SMEs, “there’s a baseline of ‘we just want our finance function to work properly, be best in class, so that everything’s tight’, from a ‘safe pair of hands’ point of view,” he elaborates, “but in terms of really understanding their business, a big part of that is just building a relationship over time.”
Can SMEs really trust an external finance professional with internal issues?
From a finance point of view, sharing your finances, cash flow, P&Ls and the like, is a personal undertaking and can be daunting, especially if your business has a very small management team. As accountants, says Lachlan, an outsourced CFO for example, will have his or her own professional standards they adhere to. It’s certainly a trusted role in society they should remain conscious of and be careful to uphold those standards.
Lachlan always seeks to assure business owners and executives that he’s seen it all!
How can consultants reassure businesses that they are fully committed?
A quality consultant will set expectations up front – how much access, on-site for example, does a client need or want? What’s the scope of the relationship or work being proposed? A clear and agreed framework is important and will be beneficial for both parties.
For Lachlan and his finance team, he says it’s critical to get the balance right, especially as Vital Addition itself grows, and that they:
• Be clear in determining the client’s desired outcomes
• Schedule quarterly reviews – what’s working, what’s not
• Remember that open communication is the best way to manage the process.
Is there a type of company that this bespoke, modular, project-based style of working, works best for?
Start-ups and SMEs often inform much of the client base, rather than a particular industry type or sector, or size, and every business has different needs. Software businesses, for example, are heavy on data/invoicing, whereas creative agencies might need more commercial advice, or financial services businesses will require complex financial management.
Technology and apps – can they replace the expert?
Could a small business download or subscribe to enough applications – eg Receiptbank, Xero – to enable them to ‘go it alone’? Everyone agreed that while there are definitely programs that enhance workflow and other processes, the human contact is still vital (to interpret, as well as collate, data, for example).
While they don’t replace the human element, apps and technology platforms can actually enhance the work of the outsourced expert as they streamline workflows (expense management, for instance), thereby saving business owners’ time. Above all, in the accounting space in particular, which can be complex and overwhelming, outsourcing is about saving time. Giving yourself headspace as a business owner to do the job of running your business, can make or break your livelihood.
Listen to the full Q&A here: The Benefits of Outsourcing Your HR and Finance Functions