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Scaling the business is a top goal for many startups at a certain point. To get to the next level, it’s time to invest in the skills your company is missing, at a pace that isn’t too much, too soon. Since the people aspect of the business is both your most valuable and priciest resource, you’ll want to put attention on scaling your people as you scale your business.

What Do We Mean by Scaling?

Scaling puts the focus on growing the business with intention, in a cost-effective, efficient way. It requires laying down a foundation for supporting and enabling this growth, with streamlined, consistent processes; order in the financial operations; with the right people, systems, and partners in place. For emerging growth companies, shifting gears from survival mode to scaling requires big changes, including new faces—but that doesn’t mean you need to fully load up on payroll right away.

Scaling for Skills: What Do You Have, What Do You Need?

Take a look at your current employees and leadership team, and consider what skillsets you may need to bring in now and over time:

Evaluate everyone. Some of the people who were once a good fit for getting the company off the ground may not be right for the new version of the company. Look at the strengths and weaknesses within your staff. You may need to rethink some roles, add new ones, and consider how outsourcing can fill in some gaps, on a flexible basis. These evaluations may lead to tough calls if some employees are not able, or unwilling, to scale with the company.

Understand current and future gaps. What skills will make the company stronger starting today? What about the significant changes you’ll be pursuing? If an IPO is on the horizon, for example, does anyone on staff have experience working at a publicly traded company? The expectations and scrutiny are higher, and experience with all that entails will be needed.

Don’t underestimate the need for flexibility. For the immediate future, as the company adopts new processes and systems, you’ll want to know whether the people you have on board are adaptable and open to change. Changes are never easy, but some people are roadblocks. You want people who are excited to—or at least willing to—learn and adapt to new technologies and new ways of working (smarter, not harder).

Be forthcoming about the changes. Some employees will discover that the future version of the company is not for them. They simply may prefer working in a startup environment and are averse to adjusting to a more structured environment.

People Principles for Scaling

Follow these principles as you become aware of the people who want to grow with the company, and the fluctuating skills you will need to bring in:

Make a plan. How will you take the company from point A to point B? How will you fund any expansions without burning through too much cash? What skills are missing and need to be filled now, and what skills could be filled later? And which skills could be outsourced for a time before hiring someone full-time? 

Build a great team and help them shine. Put effort into bringing out the best of those who are staying on board. The culture will shift as the company evolves but you can shape it into the kind of environment where people feel welcome, where they want to be their best selves and do their best work. Think about how the company can nurture the talents you have and keep everyone engaged. Let your star performers do what they do, and move out of the way so that they can shine.

Be creative with the skills you need. Outsourcing skills that are not core to the business (i.e., finance and accounting, marketing, IT) can help you supplement any missing skillsets that will help the company advance, build in cost control to your growth plans, and free up those star performers and other employees to focus on core functions.

Outsourcing provides optimum flexibility by reducing the risk of taking on full-time staffers for what could end up being a temporary need. When you find an outsourcing partner that can provide you with a range of talents and knowledge, you can access the level of expertise you need, when you need it.

Gaining Expertise, at the Right Level

For nearly 30 years, RoseRyan has helped hundreds of fast-moving companies achieve their growth goals, by helping them build practical plans; develop solid financial foundations; and supplement their skillsets with flexible, cost-efficient solutions. Access to expertise, at a part-time level in the beginning of the scaling effort, can help the company control costs and move at a sustainable pace. Then, as the company successfully advances with its plan, RoseRyan will train and transition incoming full-timers at the appropriate time. It’s one of the many ways we guide companies to greatness.

Ready to make a strategic move with your emerging growth company? Contact RoseRyan today to find out how we can help.

As Chair of RoseRyan, which she founded in 1993, Kathy Ryan guides our finance and accounting consulting firm’s overall mission, strategy, direction and investment decisions. She guided the firm for 26 years under an innovative business model, with flexible work arrangements coupled with a highly supportive, values-based culture, before naming David Roberson as chief executive in 2020. Kathy has been recognized as a thought leader, innovator and strategist, building upon her extensive CEO and CFO experience working with more than 50 Silicon Valley startups. Before RoseRyan, Kathy was director of finance at Quantum and tax manager at Price Waterhouse.

Does your fast-moving company have what’s needed to keep its current pace in a sustainable way? Or are you losing sleep at night worrying about all the aspects of the business you simply do not know enough about or have time to deal with? In between starting up and scaling up quickly (or flaming out), emerging growth companies realize they are missing a level of guidance and perspective that only an experienced CFO can provide. Here are some of the many reasons your company could benefit from CFO input, which could occur on a part-time, interim or occasional basis.

CFOs shift the focus of finance from looking at history to looking toward the future. The accounting record of how the company has performed so far may be in good shape, but what do the numbers tell you? As a member of the team, a seasoned CFO will ask the questions no one else is asking: What are the areas that can most impact our profitability—how can we optimize our profit and minimize our risk? What resources do we need to turn our plans into reality, and what is the best way to obtain those resources? How can we create more value without expenses getting out of control? Are we charging a fair and competitive value for our product or service or is Sales giving away the store (or asking for the moon)?

When the accounting/finance team is running a million miles a minute to keep the financial operations running smoothly, there is no time left to get at these important, big-picture questions that are critical for setting a successful path for the company. This is where CFO guidance can be invaluable: When they become a part of the team, CFOs introduce a future mindset. The CFO will bridge what the historical data tells us today with what is needed for the future through analysis and the buildout of likely scenarios to demonstrate their implications for strategic decisions that senior leadership is considering.

CFOs have a knack for uncovering cost efficiencies and missed opportunities. As an experienced CFO, I always review contracts when putting together a budget, and recently this habit led to the discovery of a significant underbilling situation. The client company was entitled to higher management fees. The fact is, it’s in a CFO’s nature to pay attention to the details that others have forgotten or lack the time or skills to properly review.

CFOs will help you realize the true value of your product, company or idea. When companies are starting out, there’s a tendency to do whatever’s necessary to secure those initial sales and allay that fear of not being able to get enough business to survive, let alone thrive. However, a company may fall into the trap of undervaluing what it’s selling—in order to score those initial sales wins or reach a top line goal.

But what’s the result of those actions? Not charging what your product or service is worth not only devalues your company but leads your team to think that cost is the way to compete instead of creating value. CFOs can help your team to stay on the right track by focusing on the value you bring to the market and helping you set the pricing and terms for your services appropriately. It may not help the company to make a sale if you have to tie up your working capital for six months before you get paid or engage with a client that will not pay you. A good CFO will help you gauge those additional factors before the contract is signed.

You may occasionally have strategic reasons for wanting to do business with a customer for less than your normal pricing. Your CFO should ensure that you articulate those reasons so that the company discounts appropriately and not excessively. A good CFO should also help the executive team recognize when it is time to walk away from an unprofitable business or an unprofitable product line, or define the criteria necessary to make that business worthwhile. Understanding the value of your product or service and charging for it properly will ensure your survival.

When It’s Time to Seek a Senior Level CFO

We work with a lot of entrepreneurs who have amazing ideas and promising businesses. A common issue as they make progress on scaling their companies is knowing when or how to offload some of their oversight responsibilities and worries. For example, a technologist-turned-CEO who has a brilliant product that could be life-saving needs to keep most of his focus on getting out in the field to sell his product and drum up interest with investors. But there are so many other responsibilities that need attention, including HR, legal, compliance and risk management. With wide-ranging skill sets and experience, an interim or fractional CFO can take on oversight of these areas and help the company run more smoothly.

What’s one of the biggest benefits of having access to a CFO, whether it’s for a certain number of hours a week or on an as-needed basis? It’s their ability to help you sleep at night. They can let you know, “these are the things we need to worry about and these are things we do not need to worry about.” They can narrow down the key risks facing the company while also helping you manage them.

Learn all about our tailored finance and accounting solutions for emerging growth companies, and reach out to RoseRyan to inquire how interim CFO expertise can help your company’s quest toward greatness.

Andrew Katcher, a consulting CFO for RoseRyan, blends financial, supply chain and systems skills with vast international experience, having held Fortune 500 division-level controller positions in Japan, Korea, Australia, Europe, Israel and Singapore, in addition to serving as an interim CFO for U.S.-based companies. Past consulting clients include Facebook (Oculus division), SanDisk, Logitech, Amazon/Lab126, SunPower, NYK Logistics and Core-Mark. He recently led a company through an acquisition while guiding two other companies through successful Series A financing rounds.