Getting a small business or startup past the two-year mark is just one of many promising milestones. So many young companies fail early, so passing certain goalposts can be gratifying to the owners and entrepreneurs of an “emerging growth company,” a fast-moving business that may be venture backed or will soon seek significant funding. How can you ensure a bright future as you build your business? Here are a few strategies that have worked for others who have successfully built a business.

The Basics of an Emerging Growth Company

There are various definitions of an emerging growth company. The most prominent comes from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which considers an emerging growth company to have less than $1 billion in total annual gross revenue in its most recent fiscal year. This qualification allows a pre-IPO company to follow reduced disclosure and reporting requirements for its registration statement with the SEC.

Another way to characterize an emerging growth company is by its stage in the business lifecycle. An emerging growth company not only shows promise, it is in the process of developing or solidifying a strong foundation on which to further build the business.

Still running on minimal resources, it’s received some validation from investors and customers, and it may or may not go public one day. The business is moving at a fast clip and probably wants to get on more solid footing. It’s around this time that leaders of the company realize they could use some help with understanding their business and how it’s performing. There are strategic decisions to be made, to take the company in the right direction, but any moves need to be based on timely, reliable financial data and what that data means.

The company may not yet be ready for a full-time CFO at this point, however. An outsourced accounting team with a part-time controller could be the right fit for getting the finances in order and gaining a better understanding of the business. Are the current plans realistic? What do we need to adjust in order to reach our main goals?

When companies are first starting out, really early on, there may not be much of a plan—more of a hope to explore if a tech innovation can turn into a marketable product. Or the start of a potentially life-saving drug that will need full funding and interest to get it through the development phases. Such companies start out by just getting by with minimal resources for completing payroll, recording transactions, and paying the bills. As the company builds up, however, the need for a different level of financial expertise quickly becomes clear. Establishing finance and accounting processes, getting on the right systems for the company’s size and complexity, and having CFO-level expertise when needed as the company prepares to seek funding are all steps toward  building a successful emerging growth business. These are steps for moving beyond the “building a startup” phase toward a brighter future.

The Essentials of Building a Successful an Emerging Growth Company

Is your emerging growth company prepared for the changes ahead? Do you wonder “How do I properly build my company?” or “What are the best ways to grow my business?” Start off by considering if you have some of the essentials:

  • A tailored plan for growth—that takes into account your talent, your goals, and where the company is at this moment
  • A tech stack of integrated applications (including software for accounting, payroll, expense management) to keep your financial operations running smoothly
  • Senior level financial expertise that can offer timely guidance as the company pursues growth plans or goes after funding
  • An honest, practical understanding of the business performance and forecasted future

Financial Reporting Requirements for Emerging Growth Companies

The expectations of an emerging growth company expands quickly once it pursues either debt or equity funding. It may need a higher level of financial help as it brings in more people and more talent to meet rising customer demand, ramp up sales and marketing efforts, or pursue an acquisition. While the company scales up, it also requires more structure and an understanding of whether and how it can keep up the pace with the resources it has and is planning to take soon. The company’s growth depends on making the right decisions.

Its financial reporting efforts need to be robust for the sake of decision-makers but also for its growing circle of stakeholders. Lenders will likely want to see audited financial statements, for instance, and the company would have to embark on a long and potentially complicated process to get that first audit complete. Many inquiries are likely to follow, so you’ll want a dedicated expert around who can support the company during the audit process, so everyone else can focus on their day jobs.

How Do You Build a Successful Business?

The million-dollar question any new entrepreneur wants to know: How do you build a successful business? Those who have done it know that it’s more than the product you sell or the idea you come up with. Your company could have the greatest, most unique idea for an app that every American will want to subscribe to over the next year. But, as your company considers adding this on to its portfolio, will it be able to keep up with demand? Does it have the capability of forecasting how long that demand will last? If your outlook is unrealistic, you could be setting up the company for a lot of disappointment—and disappointed users.

Make sure you have the information you need, exactly when you need it. When it’s time for your emerging growth company to further develop the finance function, bring in more finance and accounting expertise, and lean on growth consulting pros, you know where to reach us.

Ask a finance team how quickly they can pull off closing the books, and you’ll likely get some groans in response. Chances are they want to be faster but something—or many things—are clogging up the works. Inefficiencies have crept up along with trails of approvals and sloppy systems that have not kept up with the times. Errors and frustrations abound.

The result: a financial close that lasts for weeks and makes everyone involved sweat from forehead to chin until it’s over. And even then, no one’s happy. “Outdated and inaccurate financial information can lead to bad decision-making,” warned RoseRyan Senior Consultant Susan Wong during a recent Proformative webinar with Intacct Principal Sales Engineer Linda Pinion.

Both speakers offered ways companies can improve and accelerate the close process to get up-to-date, accurate information flowing, to feed the need to make smart decisions and provide the kind of real-time data craved by senior leaders.

There’s another sweet effect too: an improved close can free up the finance function, giving the team time to assist on other meaty matters, like analysis, strategy and planning. A faster, better close sets up the finance organization to be more efficient and responsive to the changing tides of business, according to Wong.

To see what’s mucking up the close, companies need to take an eagle-eye view of the key pieces involved. “If you have the right people, processes and systems in place, it will help you get closer to realizing the dream of the daily close,” Wong said. Below are just a few of the tips Wong and Pinion offered during the webinar.

Focus on the folks

“Your financial close is only as good as your people,” Wong said. “It sounds like a commercial, but it’s true. It’s all about having the right talent.” Is everyone involved in their own world? Rein them in by establishing well-defined roles and responsibilities. “Each participant should know exactly what needs to be done and when,” Wong said.

Track the close cycle time and errors that occur as part of the team’s KPIs to incentivize employees to keep learning and improving, she added. A backup plan is another smart move; by cross-training everyone and having contingencies if someone leaves or gets sick, the process won’t get stuck on just one person and will be more likely to run smoothly.

Step up the processes

Is the word “process” laughable when it comes to getting a close done at your company? Wong said most companies have informal processes that are not documented—and risk getting forgotten if someone leaves the organization. Documented, formalized processes will not only help the exercise of closing but can lead to satisfied auditors who are looking for consistency.

Have a financial close calendar accessible to everyone so they can plan around the dates. And have a checklist that includes all closing activities, such as updating depreciation, getting the inventory count and reconciling bank statements.

Review the systems

Is the company stuck in its Excel ways? Wong loves Excel as much as anyone in the finance and accounting world, especially as an analytical tool, but for accounting purposes, it can slow things down. Some companies are stuck with manually entering the same data into multiple spreadsheets—and risking mistakes with each entry. Others are still matching invoices and purchase orders by hand. Automation can quicken the pace and improve accuracy. “We know from our talks with CFOs that this is number-one on their list,” Pinion said. “They want to be able to streamline and automate processes within their organization.”

Automation can turn companies that have a vague idea of how they’re doing in the moment into a real-time data machine. “Visibility is in my opinion the key to accountability,” Pinion said. “If you’re responsible and you need to be accountable for these closings and these reports and documents you’re preparing, one of the first things you need is visibility to that information.”

Wong said most companies should take less than five days to close, and some may need more time if they need to consolidate. Sound like an out-of-reach figure for your company? Keep in mind that finding and resolving issues as the business trucks along with its daily transactions should occur outside of the close. Could the one-day close ever become a reality? Not at the moment for most companies, but the help of new technologies and streamlined processes could get them closer to seeing it happen at some point.

Even large businesses, organizations rife with complexities and teams that are mired in unwieldy spreadsheets, can get to where they need to be—an accelerated and smooth process. The fact is it is an ongoing process, with room to improve month over month. Wong suggested doing regular reviews and looking for ways to improve at every turn. “Track accomplishments and setbacks during the close,” she said. “We can all learn from our accomplishments and mistakes.”

With higher visibility, the finance team can provide senior leaders with more reliable metrics that they can use to pull the trigger on smart decisions. And that should mean less sweating all around.

Did you miss the webinar? Click here to watch Realizing the Dream: The Daily Financial Close Is Becoming Reality.

CFOs’ résumés are getting longer and more complex. Naturally they are the stewards of the company’s finances and the operator of the treasury, financial planning and analysis, accounting and tax functions. Now, they are also embracing being strategists and catalysts. This is according to Kathy Ryan, CEO and CFO of RoseRyan, and Myles Suer, senior manager, CFO solutions, at data integration company Informatica. Ryan and Suer recently tag-teamed as speakers on a webinar about “Analytics and Data for the Strategic CFO.”

“It’s increasingly important for CFOs to be strategists, who help shape the overall strategy and direction of their company, as well as catalysts, who instill a financial approach and mindset throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better,” Ryan said during the event. “These varied roles make up a CFO’s job today and make it more complex than ever.”

Successful senior finance executives have made their careers by embracing the tough stuff. They rose to the challenge following the regulatory reforms in the early 2000s and were really able to show off their skills during the Great Recession of 2008, when their expertise was needed to not just keep companies afloat but to get back on track.

Now that the recession continues to fade in the rearview mirror, CFOs need to keep the respect and elevated status they gained in recent years—where their opinion and insights are more valued than ever—intact. “The strategist and catalyst are newer roles that came on very strong during the recession, and CFOs, in my opinion, should not relinquish these roles going forward,” Ryan advised.

A key way to keep the momentum going? Get a better grip on the data that finance teams have at their fingertips. During the webinar, Ryan and Suer emphasized the uphill battle facing CFOs to accomplish that goal. As it is, manual processes still reign at many companies, and many finance organizations lack the skills needed to make sense of all the information. “Data collection is messy,” Ryan said. “A lot of data comes in through separate and distinct sources, in differing formats, and it requires a lot of knowledge to even know how to think about trying to organize the data, much less try to analyze the data.”

The motivation to improve is there, Suer said. He cited a KPMG study reporting that two-thirds of finance chiefs said their enterprise technology platform is duplicative, complex, and the financial information they pull from it for making decisions could be more useful. And three-fourths of CFOs want to do something to fix it.

“When we talk to CFOs, data is really at the heart of everything they do,” Suer said. “They have to be able to control better the integrity of the data. What we found is what was driving CFOs so much toward manual processes was that they didn’t trust the data from each and every source, so they would either manually pull it, condition the data and push it into the next systems if they had multiple GLs, or they’d be constantly massaging it and moving it around.”

The good news: The CFO position can be more gratifying than ever. Finance chiefs are no longer pigeonholed as narrow-minded accountants in the backroom but are more and more being included with other strategic leaders whose observations and analysis can influence future directions. The not-so-good news: it is hard work and it’s not made any easier by increasingly complex business models, changes in accounting rules and regulations, and unwieldy IT systems with data that can’t be fully relied upon. CFOs—those sticklers of data with integrity—are in a tough spot.

Suer suggested that CFOs who want to be considered “data driven” and strategic should:

  • Improve data quality at every source
  • Break down application silos and integrate data across sources
  • Automate the movement and consolidation of financials based on good data
  • Slice granular consolidated financials for better analysis
  • Manage the governance and access to data

“In an ideal world, data should be entered into a system only once and be accessible to address many, many different queries from many people within an organization,” Ryan said. “The more often data is entered in different ways, the more likely it is that the data won’t be consistent, and not having consistent data will quickly undermine the results.”

For more insights on the CFO role today, watch the replay of “Analytics and Data for the Strategic CFO.”

We’ve been hearing about it for years. Finally, the result of the joint project between the FASB and the IASB to update and consolidate accounting standards for revenue recognition into one global standard is just about here. They’re expected to issue it by the end of this month.

This is when the fun begins. While there is time before companies have to issue financial statements under the new standard (which we’ll see in the first interim period of 2017 for public companies with fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2016), they will need to disclose the expected impact of the new standard right away. And they will need to be tracking transactions under the new principles beginning in 2015.

The biggest change is the shift from industry-specific guidance to the application of general principles across all industries. Companies will need to re-think how revenue will be recognized for their transactions, and in some cases they will be able to record revenue earlier than they do now. Here are my thoughts on what our clients should be considering in the months ahead.

If you work at a life sciences company
The revenue standard applies to all contracts with customers, including some collaboration arrangements for life sciences companies if they are in effect transactions with a customer. Collaborations might fall outside the scope of the new revenue guidance if the collaborator or partner is not in substance a customer, such as when a biotechnology company and pharmaceutical company have an agreement to share equally in the development of a specific drug candidate as well as the risk that comes with it.

Another change that will arise with the new standard is that variable consideration (such as milestone payments) may be included in the transaction price allocated to deliverables as long as the company has relevant experience with similar performance obligations and, based on that experience, they do not expect a significant reversal in future periods. Changes to these estimates will have to be allocated to performance obligations based on that initial allocation, unless a payment relates to a specific element and is consistent with the amount expected to be entitled for performance of that obligation.

When life sciences companies license their drugs to commercialization partners, they can estimate and recognize sales-based royalties when the partners’ subsequent sales occur and will not have to wait, as they do now, until each partner has reported such sales. These estimates can include only the amount that has a low probable risk of significant reversal.

Another change that will result in earlier recognition of revenue for life sciences companies is the recording of sales of new products when they ship, minus the estimates for returns. Currently, companies have to delay recognition on a sell-through basis if a pattern of return has not been established.

If you enter into license agreements
The new standard’s emphasis on when control transfers to the customer may change the timing of revenue recognition on licenses. A license is the right to use an entity’s intellectual property, such as software and technology, patents, trademarks, copyrights, music and movie rights and franchises. In some cases, a license is a promise to provide a right, which transfers at a point in time. In other cases, it is a promise to provide access to a right that transfers to the customer over time, such as if a licensor has continuing obligations under the arrangement that do not otherwise qualify as separate performance obligations, or if the licensor must actively make the IP available on a continuous basis during the license period, or if the licensee benefits from changes over time.

If you have software arrangements
For software arrangements, VSOE (vendor-specific objective evidence) guidance is no longer required, resulting in earlier recognition of revenue for licenses that lacked it for undelivered elements, including future upgrades, additional product rights or other vendor obligations. Companies still need to allocate revenue to each of the deliverables in the arrangement based upon best estimated selling prices (BESP). It simply allows for alternate methods of determining BESP beyond VSOE.

If you sell software as a service
You will need to assess software license and hosting services to determine if they represent distinct performance obligations. It is unclear what criteria will apply to determine whether a typical SaaS arrangement will qualify for service accounting treatment (over time) or if the software element should be recognized separately (at a point in time).

In addition, provisions entitling the customer to a refund if undelivered elements are not successfully provided — an issue that currently delays recognition — will be a part of the estimate of variable consideration, resulting in earlier revenue recognition in some arrangements.

If you’re a contract manufacturer
In contract manufacturing situations, the timing of revenue recognition will no longer revolve around when units are delivered but instead when a service is performed and when the control of goods are transferred to the customer over time. This change may require contract manufacturers to modify their systems and processes to recognize revenue in the new way.

If you work in the technology sector
Distributors and resellers tend to require price protection or right of return from manufacturers of technology products to protect themselves from obsolescence and price reductions. Manufacturers currently delay recognition of revenue from these transactions because of the possibility they’d have to give money back or accept product returns. Under the new standards, fees that are currently not considered fixed and determinable can be recognized to the extent the company can estimate the amount that has a low probable risk of significant reversal. This will result in earlier recognition of revenue for manufacturers.

When companies license their technology for use in tangible goods or services, they can recognize the royalties when sales or usage occurs to the extent they can estimate the amount that won’t reverse (subject to the constraint on variable consideration). Today, recognition is typically delayed until such sales are reported by the licensee.

What everyone should do in the meantime
These are just a few examples of impacts in certain industries. When the new standard is released, we encourage you to evaluate its impact on your company and business model. Don’t underestimate the subtleties the new principles guidance will change in revenue recognition. Without bright-line rules, there will be room for judgment but also room for differences in interpretation and implementation, particularly between you and your auditor. Let the fun begin!

Diana Gilbert has been a member of the RoseRyan dream team since 2008 with almost 30 years of professional experience. She excels at technical accounting, revenue recognition, SOX/internal controls, business systems and process improvements.

I hear a lot about the many virtues of moving to the cloud. There are a lot of reasons this makes sense—among other things, the cloud can provide greater efficiencies, reduce costs, enhance productivity, remove geographic barriers and improve disaster recovery. And with so many cloud-based applications available and more hitting the market constantly, it definitely is the way of the future (if not the present).

But the articles I’ve read tend to focus on the benefits, and working in the cloud is not without risks. You don’t control the platform, and your company’s critical data (about employees, finances, customers, etc.) is being stored outside your premises with a third party. Even though someone else is managing your data, you are still responsible for what happens to it. Here are a few risks to consider:

Data location. Where is your data being hosted? Data protection and privacy regulations in many countries specify where certain employee data can be physically located. Also, different countries provide different legal protections, so if your provider moves its data center to another country there could be serious consequences for you.

Data ownership and migration. What happens to your data if you switch vendors or if a vendor goes out of business? Will it disappear? Will it be deleted securely? Will it cost to transfer your data from the vendor at the end of the contract?

Security. What controls are in place for transmitting data to your cloud provider and storing data securely? Is customer access secure? How are security breaches handled, and how soon are customers notified? (Ask for a SOC2 report to help assess data protection and security.)

Reliability. Industry standard uptime is greater than 99 percent. Does your provider meet that? How often is maintenance performed? How are customers notified of scheduled down time? What is the disaster recovery plan? Are full backups taken at least daily? Are there redundant sites and systems?

Integration. Evaluate how well the application integrates with existing applications (both in the cloud and at your location).

If you’re moving to the cloud, be smart—weigh costs and benefits, and evaluate options carefully. If you have an enterprise risk management (ERM) program in place, make sure the cloud is part of your strategy. Know what your risks are and address them up front; if something goes wrong you may be looking at business disruptions, damage to your reputation, lost customers and more. You don’t want to be surprised.

Don’t have an ERM program? Learn more about ERM for midsize companies in our latest report, ERM: Not Just for the Big Guys.

RoseRyan and Silicon Valley Bank are pleased to present “New Accounting Issues Affecting Technology Companies” September 29 in Santa Clara. Technical accounting pro Maureen Earley will review the practical implications for technology companies of several new accounting rules introduced in 2011. She’ll also pull back the curtain and give you a peek at what’s next. If you work in finance at a private technology company, you’ll want to know how these new rules affect the information you provide to your company, investors, board and even your lenders.

What you’ll learn:

  • Revenue recognition accounting changes for 2011
  • Financial Accounting Standards Board rule changes in the pipeline
  • Common accounting issues for VC-backed technology companies

The program is free, and will be held 4–5:15 p.m., followed by a networking reception, at Silicon Valley Bank, 3005 Tasman Drive, Santa Clara.

Register here.

Need more information? Please send an email to Eve Murto.