In the early stages of a company, CEOs get involved in everything. However, as your growth ramps up, you must become strategic with your time. You need to put systems in place for building and scaling a financially viable business while preserving your attention for mission-critical items.
As a fractional CFO for growth companies, I help clients navigate this shift daily, and I’ve found the following tips useful in nearly every situation.
1. Develop Relationships with Strategic Partners
Every business leader understands they need a strategy for attracting and converting new leads into customers. But you must be creative when growing sales on a budget. Instead of costly ad campaigns or branding strategies, I recommend you build strong, reciprocal partnerships first and do so as soon as possible.
I am not referring to simple networking. I’m talking about identifying companies with business models that complement your own and approaching them with a win-win proposition. The relationship can be formal or informal, but the key is to offer something valuable in exchange for inexpensive exposure to your target audience.
For example, when I founded my last company, Xtiva, we employed this strategy from the start. We had developed a back-office solution tailored to the unique needs of financial services firms. We approached a well-established company that provided services to brokerage firms and proposed that we form a marketing alliance. We offered their clients preferred pricing and services in exchange for marketing and sales support. Our partner acquired a value-add for their customers, and we gained a customer base for little cost.
2. Build a Scalable Financial Infrastructure
When starting out, most small companies can get by with a simple bookkeeping service. As the business grows, however, you will quickly require a more sophisticated financial infrastructure that can evolve as you scale. For instance, a growing business should have:
- An accounting solution that meets your business requirements.
- A detailed and realistic financial model where you can visualize your monthly income, expenses, and cash flow projections for the coming year.
- A key performance indicators (KPI) dashboard.
- Basic internal controls, such as policies and procedures for accounts payable, accounts receivable, and expense reimbursements.
That will help you spot problems and deal with them before they spin out of control while providing your executive team with the insight it needs to make financially sound business decisions.
3. Grow Your Team Slowly by Including Contractors in Your Hiring Plans
You need a team of smart, reliable people to help you pursue your goals. But hiring is expensive. Besides a full-time salary, employees expect benefits, bonuses, vacation time, and equipment. Furthermore, you will need recruitment support and help building and managing your compensation plans. Although some of this is unavoidable, you can minimize your financial burden by including contractors in your hiring plans.
For example, instead of hiring a full-time marketing director and expecting them to be a jack-of-all-trades, consider hiring a team of freelancers. That will provide you with the expertise you need without the headcount. The same approach can apply to your management team. A fully burdened CFO can cost between $300,000 and $400,000 annually (sometimes more for “hot” areas like software as a service) and might be more than you need. Hiring a fractional CFO to provide advice and guidance is a more cost-effective option.
4. Prepare Yourself (and Your Business) for the Inevitable Pursuit of Capital
There often comes a time when companies need to raise some form of capital, and it will probably happen sooner than you think – especially if you are focused on growth. While you are likely to bring someone on board to help with this process, there are some things you can do now to prepare. Setting up your financial infrastructure, as we discussed earlier, is a great start. But it would also be a good idea to:
- Familiarize yourself with the various sources of capital.
When the time comes, you will need to decide what type of capital is right for you, but the options can be dizzying. Will you be looking for a simple debt arrangement? A strategic partner? A hands-off investor? And what would you be willing to give up in return? Exploring your options ahead of time can help you get comfortable with the lingo and tradeoffs so that the choices won’t be so overwhelming.
- Formalize your business and marketing plans.
Any reputable lender or investor will expect to see your plans for running and monetizing your business. If none of your plans are in writing, or if they only exist on the back of cocktail napkins, consider drafting something more formal before starting down the capital-raising path.
5. Maintain Focus on Growing the Value of Your Business
Remember, although you are in growth mode, your primary role as a CEO remains the same. You must keep your company on track toward achieving its vision. That means you need to focus on ensuring that you have:
- A reputable product or service that solves a real problem for real customers.
- Traction with a diverse or defensible mix of customers (i.e., a reliable client base you can nurture and grow).
- A strong and trustworthy management team to whom you can delegate.
- A plan for increasing your company’s value over the next 5-plus years.
As the CEO, your job is to get your company into a strong position so you can pursue whatever opportunities arise. Whether you believe you will eventually go public or decide to sell, it doesn’t matter. Protect yourself from distractions so you can effectively grow and improve the value of your business.
The Bottom Line
When companies shift into growth mode, it’s an adjustment for everyone, including the CEO. Therefore, it can be helpful to narrow the focus. Choose strategies that allow you to prepare for and pursue opportunities while continuing to minimize costs and reduce risks, and you will build a thriving business.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated article that was originally published on Forbes.