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Two Cardinal Sins of Small Business

(A follow-up to When Small Businesses Miss the Point of Forecasting.)

It’s no secret why 80% of small businesses fail within the first 18 months (according to Most failed businesses are guilty of two cardinal sins.

1. Discounting experience

Some management teams think that success is driven by bringing a superior product or service to market followed by outworking the competition. If only business was that simple!

The first question I ask every new business owner – what’s your exit strategy? This question applies to all businesses, whether in financial services, consumer products, or another industry. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you plan on getting there?

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A CFO’s Challenge to the Community

I’m flattered that my forecasting post was a big hit – over 1,300 views and 130 likes. What I’m hoping, as I take off my CFO hat, is that this post gets 10 times that number of hits and likes. Four years ago, I survived a hit-and-run incident. The details aren’t relevant beyond the fact that I could’ve lost my life. What is more relevant is that I survived and it made me stronger. Now I’m on a quest to support cystic fibrosis programs.

That’s not much of a transition…so logically, most people ask, “I don’t understand, why CF?”

One of my supporters during rehab was a former teacher of mine at Notre Dame. I discovered that her son was born with cystic fibrosis. He takes 20 pills a day and starts each morning with a vibrating vest that bangs against his chest. This is done with the hope of preventing infection. He’s only 5.

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Did I Make the Right Hire?

It’s a question that some management teams debate long after bringing aboard new talent in the form of employees or consultants. Was the right person chosen for the task and was it a wise usage of funds? I often recommend that clients consider the points below in evaluating their decision. These criteria fit companies of any size, in any industry, whether it’s a start-up company or a venture cap or financial services giant.

Seek Talent with Complementary Skills

I’ve identified this as the biggest obstacle in acquiring the best talent. Some management teams ultimately settle on “yes” people. They want the good soldiers who follow company protocol and never create a stir. A few problems arise from this mentality:

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The Art of Networking

Networking is a word that makes most people cringe. For some, it calls to mind speed dating – getting jammed into a room with complete strangers, forced to share details of business and self. For others, it’s looked upon as a necessary evil. Successful business persons, however, generally view networking as synonymous with opportunity. As a small business owner, targeting “best in class” venture cap and financial service firms as my perfect prospects, networking is vital to my success.

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In truth, it’s a lost art. Below are key observations for building meaningful relationships and accelerating your career the right way.

Strategic partnerships before friendships

This might sound cold and impersonal. In reality, it’s neither. It’s a valuable lesson that my first mentor tried to teach me in Manhattan. He told me, “The most fun people don’t always make the best co-workers. Always let someone’s work doing the talking.” Unfortunately, I didn’t truly comprehend the message until a few years later.

That’s when I received a promotion to the ranks of middle management. One of the co-workers who I occasionally joined for happy hour tried to use my promotion as his means for coasting through work. He started arriving late and leaving early. When we faced impromptu deadlines, he punted projects back to me or other managers. Eventually, it necessitated a face-to-face talk behind closed doors. All he could say was, “I thought we were friends.”
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From Controller to CFO? Not so Fast!

Traditionally, a company might groom its Controller to ascend to the role of CFO, either as part of a long-term management plan or upon the former CFO’s departure or promotion. It makes sense on paper, since the Controller and CFO work closely together, sharing responsibility for the back office. However, as discussed in the blog titled 3 Common Mistakes by Management – through the Eyes of a CFO, more is expected and needed from the CFO in these changing times. These responsibilities include strategizing with upper management to develop tactics for managing the growth of companies. This makes the jump from Controller to CFO more challenging than ever. In layman’s terms, it’s like asking a historian to become a prognosticator!

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3 Common Mistakes by Management – through the Eyes of a CFO

1. More revenue is always better

When I announced the launch of Hemera Financial Solutions, my peers frequently volunteered the same advice – “sales drive business.” While it’s certainly true, chasing revenue can cripple a business. During a recent business pitch, a prospective client raved about a new contract that paid $50,000 per month. I simply asked, “What’s the profit margin?” He had no idea.

He factored in the cost of the materials to complete the engagement, but never considered the cost of his employees’ time. After a rough calculation of the salaried staff hours required by the contract, I estimated that the prospective client lost $30,000 per month on that engagement. This job also tied up the availability of resources for other projects which suffered as less seasoned workers were forced into roles for which they weren’t adequately suited.

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