A two-part series on hiring the right financial team for your business.

The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. If you think this story is about you ... you are probably right.

Leslie is the owner of a roofing company, a business she inherited from her father. Back in the day, her father managed a small crew and operated with handshake-contracts and stacks of cash.

Now that her dad has retired, ambitious Leslie sees a different future. She wants to grow her company so that she can make a fortune - and provide career opportunities for her beloved team. And she wants to build on her (and her father's) reputation for taking great care of her customers.

Leslie called me one day after reading one of my articles. She described the vision she has for her company and her intent to build an empire. In response to my questions, she shared the following:

  • She knew how much she had in accounts receivables, but only saw financial statements once a year at tax time.

  • She didn't understand how the financial statements related to what she did every day - sales, payroll, materials - so she pretty much ignored the reports anyway.

  • She knew that she was in debt - but wasn't sure how much. She just secured another line of credit to keep the cash flowing.

I confronted Leslie about her lack of financial literacy.

“It's your company and your assets on the line. You need to know. Tell me who is in charge of the accounting at your company.”

For the last fifteen years, her mom has been the bookkeeper. Mom does the books as “a favor” to Leslie. She works 40-plus hours a week but nothing is ever really finished or ready for Leslie to look at, so Les has quit asking for day-to-day financial information. Everyone else in the office avoids Mom, who seems to have a different set of rules from the rest of the team. While Mom is responsible for paying bills, who she pays and when is a mystery.

Once, when Stan the warehouse man had a question about his paycheck, Mom flew out of the office sobbing, “And that's the thanks I get?” It took Leslie three apologetic phone calls to woo her back.

At the end of the year, Mom hands whatever it is that she assembles for financial information to a fellow named Art. Art is an accountant who files the tax return. Leslie has asked Art for help understanding the balance sheet and income statement he prepares for the return. She called and set up an appointment to meet with him. His secretary scheduled a date to meet - in six weeks.

At that meeting, Art leaned over his massive mahogany desk and patted Leslie's hand. “You worry about running the business. I'm a professional. I will take care of the accounting,” he said dismissively, then escorted her to the door.

“Martyr” Mom is holding Leslie back. Art “The Intimidator” is holding her hostage.

I advised Leslie to fire both of them.

Fresh Start

“But, then what?” Leslie sputtered in response to my suggestion. “Where do I find another accountant? Who else would I trust with my money? Where do I start?

“And, by the way, my mother will disown me.”

Leslie asked me to help her get a handle on her financial situation.

“I can do that. I can help you get to a known financial position. I can create a clean, accurate set of financials for you. However, to build an empire, you must learn to do that yourself. You must build a team of financial pros who will help you get timely, accurate data - in a format you understand - so that you can make good business decisions.

“And, Leslie, your mom will get over it.”

Here's what I shared with Leslie about developing her financial team.

Start by defining who is responsible for what. Create “Financial Position Descriptions.” Here is a list of the basic responsibilities for each of these positions.

The Bookkeeper

The bookkeeper is responsible for day-to-day data entry into the accounting system.
  • Invoices/accounts receivables
  • Deposits
  • Bill paying/accounts payable
Note: Bookkeeping should be done in-house; it is just not that hard to do! About 90 percent of accounting is entering invoices, making deposits and paying bills. Do these functions in real time in your accounting system. No sense in doing them and having an outside bookkeeper re-do them.

Also, bookkeeping is a part-time position unless your company is very large. Come on! How many calls does your company run a day? How long does it take to enter 10 invoices? Apply 10 payments and assemble one deposit? Pay five or six bills?

The customer service rep or dispatcher can help with bookkeeping duties. For instance, the dispatcher could be responsible for entering payables. The CSR can enter invoices. This also adds system protection, because not just one person is responsible for all the accounting or all the money transactions.

Finally, bookkeeping needs to be up-to-date. At the very least, all information for the previous week should be entered and accurate by the following Wednesday.

The Controller

The controller is responsible for assembling the financial reports on a weekly basis.
  • Assembles the financial reports: balance sheet; income statement; any other financial reports you require or request to help you make good management decisions.

  • Assembles payroll information: calculates commission and bonuses.

  • Verifies the balance sheet accounts - monthly.

  • Balances the bank statements - monthly.

  • Checks for and fixes bookkeeping errors.
Note: This is a very part-time position; perhaps just a few hours a week. This person could be in-house, or a subcontractor who comes to your shop once a week.

Use a payroll service such as ADP or Paychex; they do a great job. Then, the controller can make the journal entries from the payroll services reports.

The controller duties are often neglected in a small shop. These responsibilities fall into nowhere-land. Take responsibility for these functions yourself if they are not being done well. Then, you can hand the duties off. Get the controller responsibilities handled and take note of how your decision-making improves!

The Accountant

The accountant is primarily responsible for state and federal tax compliance. A good accountant gives appropriate tax advice, and helps you manage your company to your best tax advantage.
  • Prepares the tax return.
  • Prepares monthly-, quarterly- and yearly-required tax reporting and payments.
  • Creates the depreciation schedule.
  • Helps manage assets, accounts for the sale or purchase of assets.
  • Checks the controller's reports for accuracy and tax implications.
Look for an accountant who is excited about helping you develop in-house accounting systems. He or she should be willing to train your bookkeeper and controller, or offer the help of someone on his or her team to help in that capacity.

There is NO room in your life for a bossy, arrogant, know-it-all, too-busy-for-you accountant.

The Financial Planner

The financial planner works with you to help you achieve your long- term financial goals.
  • Reviews your personal and company goals, financial reports and makes recommendations for asset management.

  • Helps you create end-game opportunities for selling or transferring ownership in your business.
These position descriptions briefly outline the responsibilities - what needs to be done - by you and your financial professionals. Now, this does not mean you need four separate people. Here are a couple of possible financial team rosters:
    Option 1
  • A bookkeeper who performs controller duties.
  • An accountant who helps with financial planning.

    Option 2

  • A bookkeeper.
  • An accountant who performs controller duties.
  • A financial planner.

    Option 3

  • A bookkeeper
  • YOU perform the controller duties.
  • An accountant.
  • A financial planner.
None of these professionals relieve you of the primary stewardship of your company. Your assets are on the line. You have to pay attention. A good financial team can help you make good decisions. You direct them - they don't direct you.

Be sure to have at least two people on the financial team. Be sure to document each procedure in writing. This way you are imposing structure, accountability, and a system of checks and balances. You will protect your assets and keep your company safe from embezzlers. And, you will keep your financial team safe from suspicion.

And you will never be held back or held hostage again.

In next month's Small Shop Talk, I'll explore where to find your expert financial team.