The Virtual CPA Success Show: Episode 62
In this episode, Jamie Nau, our host and Summit CPA's Director of Accounting, sits down with Jody Grunden, Partner at Anders CPAs + Advisors, and James Enney, Virtual CFO, to talk about the critical indicators that will tell you that your company needs a Virtual CFO. They will also touch on dynamic forecasting, the value that a Virtual CFO can bring to a business, and important things a business owner should know before they hire a Virtual CFO.
Jamie Nau: Hello, everybody. Welcome to today's podcast. Today we decided to bring one of our trusted CFOs in to talk about future CFO services and what makes a company decide when they need CFO services.
So instead of having Jody and I sitting here talking about this, we wanted to bring out someone who was on the line talking to the clients and working in the field to talk about this. So, James, welcome to the show.
James Enney: Thank you.
Jamie Nau: And again, Jody, welcome.
Jody Grunden: Looking forward to this podcast. James has been with us for quite a long time. And, he's the only one, if you can see it, who has some cool pictures in the background.
And I was hoping to start off real quick by explaining that picture to us. James, describe it for those that can't see or that are listening.
James Enney: It is a picture of an Indy car driven by Pippa Mann. One year, my wife and I were involved with her team as we threw some sponsorship dollars out of her dental practice. And we were starting a small LLC, so we didn't have much, but we had a name and an idea. So we threw some dollars at that for a sponsorship deal.
It’s very cool to see it behind the scenes and to be involved at a very small level.
Jamie Nau: Did you ever get to drive the car or not?
James Enney: That would have been awesome, but yeah, I think they would've needed a couple of boxes to pick the pieces up.
Jody Grunden: Did you get a chance to meet her at least?
James Enney: Oh yeah. She had been our driver coach prior to that. So we had a relationship with her. It’s very cool to see her passion to do this and how to build a business and to see how she could fund it. It was a very neat experience.
Jody Grunden: Cool. So, driver coach? Tell me about that?
James Enney: So, my wife and I decided to really challenge ourselves and do something we hadn't done before. About six years ago, we got into racing carts. We thought cars would be too challenging since neither one of us are mechanically inclined.
You have to take care of everything yourself. So that was not going to be an option. So, we got into carting, figuring that would be a lot easier and cheaper and it was neither, but we've pushed ourselves into new areas where we're now a little bit more comfortable. It's a great speed release, cheaper than a speeding ticket.
Jamie Nau: So you say racing carts; is that like when I put my daughter in the cart at the shopping center and run down the aisles? Is that what you’re talking about?
James Enney: Yeah, that would be awesome. We have outdoor tracks; we have some of the ones, in particular, hit about 80 mile an hour at the end of the straightaway.
And then you're turning into a 90-degree turn, carrying a lot of speed through. So it's a six speed water-cooled engine.
Jody Grunden: Now be careful because your wife will be listening to this. Who's better?
James Enney: She is a much better driver when there's nobody else on the track, but she struggles getting through traffic.
Whereas I'm a little bit more aggressive with the equipment. I've broken more equipment. I’ve broken her wrist. We were at an event where we both wanted the same piece of real estate and I got it; she ended up with a broken wrist, but yeah, she is very calm, very talented.
Jody Grunden: Sweet, sweet. And so you're one of our CFOs.
James Enney: Right.
It's the continuation of the thrill ride. Right? You know, you're driving fast as a CFO. It's all the same.
I'll tell you the interesting part with it is you are kind of in a similar theme. You're helping people achieve their dreams in a different way. It’s been a really cool experience.
Jody Grunden: How long have you been with us now?
James Enney: Since may of 2021.
Jody Grunden: So coming up on a year, right?
James Enney: I think that Summit needs a different calendar though. It feels like longer than a year.
Jamie Nau: That's how I felt. This podcast is only 30 minutes, and it feels like two hours sometime with Jody.
Jody Grunden: That's beyond cool. Give us a little background before Summit. What'd you do in your prior life?
James Enney: The majority of my career was spent in manufacturing with global corporations. Much larger than what we see here. It was good opportunities to really understand how things work and really good systems.
The international part was cool as well–setting up operations in Europe, I did Costa Rica and set up a business down there. So it's some really cool stuff on the manufacturing side. And then later in life, I said, well, let's try on the service side. So we got into one was aviation maintenance or commercial aircraft, and the other was distribution in the commercial space.
So kind of rounding it out various roles from operational and then on the strategic side. So, the last role was the CFO. It all comes back to numbers and just a vision of being able to see around corners.
Jody Grunden: So how does that translate to the creative space? You went from all that, and now you're working with creative companies.
How, how was that transition? Was it pretty smooth? Was it difficult?
James Enney: Understanding how the businesses make money, that was probably the biggest piece because they're all a little bit different.
Seeing how it all went together and ultimately, I think there were a lot of similarities in the way everybody has a plan.
Everybody has a, “this is what we do really well. This is our core competency. This is our capacity and the expenses.”
So that part flows together very well. But all the clients are a little bit different and that's been interesting as well.
Jody Grunden: How many clients do you work with right now?
James Enney: Not enough.
Jamie Nau: Ok, I heard that.
Jody Grunden: That was a dangerous thing to say.
James Enney: I think that the list is interesting; there's a wide variety. I’ve got a coffee company, a couple of manufacturing companies, some in the digital agency, and what I would call 401k self-directed accounts. They’re all different, which really makes it unique and interesting. It's not one thing over and over again.
Jody Grunden: That’s a question that we get a lot when we bring someone on; we want somebody that knows the creative agency space and, obviously, you've got a few clients in that space there. How does working with clients outside of that space help you manage people within the space?
James Enney: I'll kind of take it a little different approach, but what I really enjoyed about the digital agency space was, when you look at the business, it's relatively simple in some regard to say, how am I going to forecast this thing? It's “what is your capacity?” And then “this is my capacity to make money.”
And then you build your cost around that, and you're off and running. And in some, I've used that to apply against some of the other companies and say, let's look at what you're capable of, and, from an industry background, in many cases, you didn't really look at capacity as a capacity planning.
It was more of a revenue-down forecast. So based on our sales expectations, we can do this. And that's where the forecast begins. And on the digital space, it was more, you've got X number of people; this much as billable. If this is your bill rate, now you've got your top line. Then you just start filling in the expenses and all the boxes.
And by moving that over, then you can go to the business owner and say, based on what you have based for a team, this is what we should be looking at from a top line. If we're not getting it, it's a pipeline issue. And then, we can start addressing those issues. So I thought that helped out quite a bit.
Then, if you were to say, what I from a background, what do you bring in? The cost-containment aspect is one thing that I think has jumped out to me more because of the challenges within the digital space, in people. You don't bring somebody in off the street, and they start working, and suddenly they are often productive.
You've got to be able to plan ahead to get people in those roles so that they, in three months, six months, when they have something coming in off the pipeline, they've got the resources there that they can jump in. So it's a real balancing game. You bring people in early, and if it doesn't materialize or if you wait too long, then you've lost the curve and you just won't have the resources to get the work done.
Jamie Nau: Yeah. It's that crystal ball that you need in this industry. Like you said with manufacturing and with parts, you can get a gauge on how fast you can get parts. And what's the delivery schedule? With people, that's a little different; every person is different.
Even if you get a person in, are they going to get trained fast enough? Am I going to be able to have them deliver that service? So that's a great analogy there and definitely something to think about.
So, down to the next question here, you mentioned the forecast; if I'm an agency, a company, and I don't have a CFO, what's the point that I need a CFO?
And I think, to me, a lot of that comes back to that forecast; when does the forecast become unmanageable? Or, do you not have a forecast and you don't know where to start with a forecast?
To me, that's the number one sign that you need a CFO, but would you agree?
James Enney: I would. When I look at what they do, I work with some really great companies that are very skilled at what they do. And their ability to do what we do, they have some ideas, but none of them have had formalized forecasts before joining up.
I'm not sure how they would be effective at what they do without a forecast, because if you can't sit down and say, where do I see myself in one year? Two years, three years? And then start planning accordingly, it's problematic. And, if you chase it back from, ‘I'm going to get the people.’
And then, ‘now that I have the people in place; let's see what kind of work we can go out and get.’
If you don't get the work quickly, then you're carrying that cost, right? So, you're carrying that every month, and the longer you wait to get that work in there and get it started, that can be a real challenge.
That would probably be the biggest piece. If I had a business, and I was looking at, when do I add the CFO? The bookkeeping is one piece, right? We're debiting and credit. Every month, we close out the books, we tie out our balance sheet, our banking statement or credit cards. By the time we've closed the month, we either made money or we didn't.
So, if we look at it from a cash basis, being able to look down the road 3, 6, 9 months, a year, two years, what's that long-term vision? Where do we want to be? It's putting the building blocks in place so that they can get there. And, I'd like to think that our role is to provide them a path so that they can achieve the results they want. Without a plan, I think it'd be very difficult to get there.
And with a dynamic forecast, the plan's important. It says at one day in time, this was right. But that dynamic forecast, you're integrating all the pieces and parts.
Where we add value is we're able to push all those pieces together; versus, ‘Hey, we're thinking about hiring a business development director.’ What do you think?
They've made up their mind that’s something they need to do, and it makes sense. But what's the financial impact of that? And then, if the world suddenly fades a little bit, how does that impact their business? Is that going to be something they can sustain now? Or, is it something they need to defer?
So it's helping them answer those long-range questions; not as much in the next two to three weeks, but it's the downstream questions to give them the comfort that, when they start rolling down that road, they're in good shape.
Jamie Nau: I think the biggest thing with that is the consistency, right? I think a lot of companies either do a budget once a year; or, they do a forecast and then they don't keep it updated.
When those questions come, they're like, ‘okay, now we got to update our forecast,’ and they have to catch up. They have to pull the numbers through and they have to do all the legwork.
I've said this often on a sales call; what we're going to provide is, you're going to have that forecast done every month. Some months, it might just be business as usual. Here we are, this is good, and nothing's changing.
But, when you need it, it's not going to be two weeks of back work. It's going to be ready for you. We can pull it up and we can talk through it. So I think that's the biggest thing. I think that's a lot of these outsource functions. It's just a peace of mind of knowing that when I have that question, I'm ready.
Jody Grunden: I think, and what James kind of pointed indirectly to, is that the forecast isn't just the revenue side. It's not just the revenue and expenses and here's what my net income is going to be because in reality, net income is really what you pay taxes on, and that's pretty much it.
It doesn't really tell you much more than that. But what it does tell you, if you flip it over, how does that really impact my cash position? My line of credit? My loans? Anything like that that I've got on the books.
How quickly can I get that paid down? Those are the things really that an owner looks at more because they're like, I've got this cash. I'm going to be short in cash and in November; what am I going to do?
And it's good to know that here we're in March versus in November, so I can plan it out. I can mentally plan it out and make corrective choices on things that affect the income statement that ultimately impact the cash position.
Maybe there's nothing I can do. I'm helpless to the industry at that point. And I've got to figure out how am I going to cover that? A good time to get a line of credit is when things are still going well. There's a lot of things that keep an owner up at night; the biggest one for me always was, it's not anymore, obviously, but for the longest time, I don't want to screw things up because I've got payroll here.
I've got 30, 40, 50 people, 10 people, whatever it is, depending upon me to make payroll. And it's not just those people, it's their significant others. It's their kids. I'm responsible for a lot of people, and what that forecast did for us when we first started and created it, it gave me the sense of ‘here's the game plan.’ I might not like the game plan, but here's the game plan.
Now, how can I tweak that game plan as life hits me in the face? And what does that really impact things so that I can sleep at night? I'm not waiting on that one receivable to come in before I can make a payment to pay payroll.
Some people out there may laugh or may not remember it, but for those of us that have had to go through the ups and downs of owning a business, that's very clear. For some people, it's clear today, and it's happening today. So, that's where the forecast, I feel, is the most valuable.
James Enney: And the forecast that you're talking about, we do that in real time. So, when we're meeting with the client, we're updating that as we go along, based on the information that they provide.
We're seeing a lot now with people costs. As you've got people transitioning out, new hires, looking to expand business to take advantage of the space, we're able to give them real-time feedback on if we do this, if we lost somebody, we had to hire a new person, now we're raising the wages of these six people. What is that going to do?
We can change that in real time, and then say, based on that, this is what the impact will be on cash. With one company, it wasn't at the dropdown to a critical level, but it was about half of what it had been given; a series of events that took place.
And, it's the ability to say in April, this is what our cash balance is most likely going to be. So we're not panicking when it gets there. We have a path that it's going to drop. Now it's going to start working back up as the revenues roll through.
With the rapid change in people costs, like we want to add these seven people, what's it going to do?
And then you can adjust on the digital side; what is their capacity in the first three months or whatnot. And they can see the real, this is the billable hours in real time. It's not, we'll get back to you with that information. Then, we're two to three weeks adrift, and they've already gone in a separate direction. We have tools that can make that happen very quickly on the call.
Jamie Nau: I think the other part of that, too, is, it's easy to build a forecast and say, this is what our forecast is for the next three months. And then say, we're going to have $600,000 of revenue. And when we have that $600,000 of revenue in the next three months, this is what cash looks like.
And I think, to your point there, James, what I remember really hitting home the value of a forecast is when COVID first hit. When COVID first hit, what I would do with my clients is I would build three forecasts. One was, this is the optimal; this is what we think we can do with our team and our capacity. This is where we could hit.
And then, you would build a worst-case scenario. You'd say, let's just assume that these three clients you think are going to not be able to afford us anymore. And then, these two clients that were 50/50, let's drop them off as well. And let's look at what that does.
And then, in the middle, you kind of say, if it wasn't five clients, let's assume we're just going to lose two of them. And then, you can look at all three of those scenarios against each other and see what it does to your cash. See what it does for your income statement and for people.
And that's just one example of really modeling and using that forecast to say, let's build scenarios and see what that's going to look like. And I think that's exactly what having a forecast quickly at your fingertips gives you the ability to do. As opposed to having to spend so much time building the forecast that by the time you build it, you're just worn out and don’t want to play with it anymore.
James Enney: And the integration with the income statement of the balance sheet, we have that. An exercise that we were going through this week with some clients, given the events in the world today, like the price of oil skyrocketing, how are those factors putting a lot of pressure on what happens if a revenue starts to drop off, what if these things don't happen and the costs rise, what's that going to look like?
We give them at least a first glimpse of starting to think about it. For this client, they’re impacted by fuel cost, so in their mind, they were thinking what if this becomes more challenging? What impact could this have?
We’re able to walk through that with them and say, okay, if these things happen, if we can't get this, if the pipeline changes a little bit, if things start canceling, then, we're okay for the first half of the year; the second half is going to get a little interesting though.
Jody Grunden: Adding to that, you've got those firms out there right now that are looking for ways to attract talent. I've seen, not just one time or two times but multiple times, they're advertising or they're putting out there, we're gonna get Fridays off, or we're going to a four-day work week–not meaning four 10-hour days but four eight-hour days. Right?
That would scare me to death if I didn't have the forecast in play because, what does that do to our top-line revenue? Because expenses are going to be pretty much the same.
You're still going to pay them, you know? So how does that impact and what are the levers I need to pull in order to make that happen? It can happen, definitely, but maybe you expect them to bill more, maybe as a percentage; instead of billing 80% of what they have out there, maybe it's 90%.
Instead of 32 hours, they're billing 30 hours a week out of the 32; or maybe we've got to increase our price in order to compensate for that. So instead of a 5% annual increase that we're going to give to our clients, maybe it's 10% or 15% for year one and then level off at 5% once that's done.
For those companies that are just going out and just doing it, that scares me half to death; it really does. They really need to know what that impact is and where that forecast is; what it's going to get dialed in for you. The forecast isn't just based on, ‘we're going to do a 10% increase next year.’ It's not based on that.
It's based on the non-financials that control that: how many people, what's their average bill rate? What's the utilization? If it's a product, how often is that product churned? What's their retention rate? How many clients, how many products are you bringing on on a weekly, monthly, or daily basis in order to sustain that?
There's a lot that goes into a forecast, and very rarely do we ever create a forecast that's just simply, ‘we're going to increase things 10% over next year.’
What business owner knows exactly how that's going to happen? I'm going to do 10%; why not do 12%?
It's just a phantom number until you actually put nonfinancial information behind it. All decisions, whether it's a reactive decision, like you mentioned, James, about the oil prices, that’s impacting things, or if it's a proactive decision, like I just mentioned, taking things to a four-day workweek, all those different things are so important to have that forecast in place and accurate, so that you can make those informed decisions.
Because again, like James mentioned, it’s very dynamic. It's always changing. Forecast is never static. Something's always going to happen this month that you weren't expecting, good and bad, and it's going to really impact things to where you really need to be on top of it and have that informed thing.
And I think all by itself, and this is kind of a different thing, but if I was a business owner and I had my forecast there, why do I need you, James?
James Enney: Well, I think that's the great question. It's because everything we've talked about up to this point has been on the forecast–so looking forward, right?
We haven't talked about the integration of the actuals against that. With the modeling that we do, we're able to sit back after the month and say, okay, this is where we landed for the month. And these were the variances against the forecast. So, what were the drivers on that?
It could be the number of billable hours we expected it to be here based on the headcount. I do have a client that does 32-hour work weeks, and I think it's 20 hours of billable, and they bumped up their bill rate to offset that. So, this is what they had as an assumption and this was reality. So why was there a departure?
We thought billable hours would be at one number, but they were 200 more or 200 less. Usually that's the one that draws concern. So the billable rate was down; or they dumped more hours into a project than what they anticipated. Same thing that we're seeing in retainers.
So when we use some of the tools that we have to close out a month, the revenue recognition or job profitability, we can get very specific about what changed. So you may have put 60 hours on the project, but you expected that to be at this internal rate of cost for using these teammates. But you actually use different teammates because you were falling behind; you put in 60 hours, but at a much higher cost, and now we can help them understand the numbers, what took place.
Those discussions are critical because, you may look at the results and say, okay, we were within 20,000 where we thought we would be, but what got us there was entirely different.
And if you start getting that out there and say, this is the second month we've seen this dynamic where we have been significantly short on billable hours, you can point to where the gaps are within a particular department. Then, they can look internally and say, okay, that does make sense.
With one client, we rolled out the revenue recognition process at the end of 2021. So in 2022, we started this and the results from them have really been eye opening in terms of, they hadn't really taken hours into consideration. Before it was something they did, but now we're really getting into the number of hours that that team worked. You should have generated this much topline; you've generated less. So why is that?
And you can start having internal discussions about what changes can we make? And they've actually reinvented their work month in terms of, we're going to say, each teammate needs to produce 126 billable hours.
So, that's rewarding to see that happen; where they're taking, this is the real world, how we blended up against what we forecasted, but saying, these assumptions we made to support the forecast, that's not what's happening now. How do we get that realigned as we go through?
Jamie Nau: I was going to say, I think, to me, that's signal number two that you need a CFO; if you know you're making money, but you don't know why you're making money.
I can’t tell you how business owners I've talked to either at conferences or in sales calls and they say, ‘I know we're doing well; my cash account keeps going up, but I'm not really sure why or how, or what's happening here.’
Obviously they understand the day to day of their business. They understand what they're doing. They understand they're keeping their clients happy, and they understand they have a successful business. But, if you don't know why it was a successful business and you don't know exactly what's happening month to month, I think that's signal number two. And I can't tell you how many times I've had that conversation.
And to me, that would scare the heck out of me. I'd be like, man, this is something that's going out of control because it's going well when it's going well. But you're going to have that month where it doesn't go well, and then they wonder what happened. And they don't really understand why that is.
To me, that's definitely a signal. Number two: your business is doing well but you don't know why.
James Enney: They do what they do very well. And, it's amazing to watch their creative process in the agency space; they generally are very skilled at what they do.
It's the financial piece that mystifies them somewhat. Even if they understand it, and many of them have a very solid understanding, they don't have the tools that we have, and they don't have the backgrounds that we have, where some things were maybe a little bit more obvious.
So we’re able to bring them ideas and say, okay, the utilization rate is way down this month.’
‘Oh. That's because we've hired new people. We're spending twice as many hours on certain projects as they're in the learning mode.’
‘Okay. So when do we expect to see that dissipate?’
‘Well, probably in another two months, and then we're going to see an uptick.’
So you make that note and two months later, if you don't see the uptake, then it's okay. It didn't happen the way we thought it was going to happen.
So, it's being able to give them feedback and look into what they're doing and ask questions of themselves. And then be able to say ‘how do we get a better product?
It’s taking away the surprises. Right? So at least they're aware of something; everything has a cost or, especially on the retainer side, we'd find out that they were given a rate to the client, they were presuming X number of hours, but they were blowing through that every month and weren’t really sure why.
So it was either a quoting issue or, we were overrunning the scope. Now they have something that they can actually go back to that team and say, what can we do to fix this? How do we get better?
Jamie Nau: I think the second side of that, too, is sometimes it's just nice to have someone to talk to who understands the numbers within your business. I know accountants get a bad rap that we're kind of nerdy and we're kind of numbers people, but when it comes to your business, it's nice to have that person to talk to.
I've said this probably 50 times in the podcast; I've worked in industries, I've worked in large companies, but the amount of times you see the CFO or the CEO walking down the hall together, it's constant.
And then when I was at Frontier Airlines, they were inseparable. Their offices were next to each other. If they were at lunch, they were eating next to each other. They were always talking to each other. And that's how businesses run is that the CEO and the CFO are intertwined because you do want that person that understands the numbers to help bounce ideas off of, and talk through with stuff. The same goes for small businesses.
We’ve made it through our 30 minutes here. I want to get final thoughts from both of you. We talked about two of the things to look for when you need a CFO. One is that you need a forecast.
Two is that you have numbers and you're doing well, but you don’t know why. I’d love to get final thoughts. James, we'll start with you.
James Enney: In addition to those two, it's that creative process that we bring from our backgrounds. The experiences that we've had, and every client is different, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution that we take out and say, ‘you've got to fit in this box.’
When I look at the book of business, there are many different industries, but everybody has the same basic issue. The solution to get them there and the communication is very customized to that individual so that we can get them something that works for them.
Jody Grunden: To add to that, I think when a lot of people come in and they say, ‘I want a CFO with tons of experience in the creative agency field,’ a lot of times, I think that's probably the wrong thing.
I want a CFO that has experience. Somebody that can bring things outside of it. For example, like Jamie coming from Frontier Airlines. Come on now; how's that related to a creative agency? Nothing at all. But yeah, it does because there are things that you picked up there that work here.
I worked at Magnet Wire Company. How does that relate to a creative agency? Well, it does; different things that you pick up there and utilize in that space. The vernacular is different for sure, you've got to know the vernacular.
I think the cool thing about it is, if you get somebody who isn't an expert in their field, a CFO like a James, who can bring in other worldly things into the conversation, other examples in the conversation.
Then, get a couple of different creative agencies in there. I think that's where the ideal person to look is–somebody that's outside and can bring that information in because there's a lot of great stuff in all fields that can be brought in and used in the creative agency space.
I do think having some experience is great, but I don't think it's a requirement because I could ask James right now,, if you don't know the answer, what do you do?
James Enney: After you think about making it up, that crosses your mind, rather than guess, you say, I will get that answer back to you very quickly.
Jody Grunden: He'll tap into the brains of other CFOs on our team that may have had that experience and kind of bring that back back to the picture. So, I think you want to look for somebody that has experience in all facets, if you can, because that's what makes a good person.
Jamie Nau: One other final thought on that,Jody, is, if you have someone that only has agency experience, they're going to try to put you in a box, and they're going to say, you're like my 12 other agencies. I'm going to make you just like my 12 other agencies; whereas, people who have multiple different types of clients and multiple different industries think outside that box a little bit. They think, this is how you're a little different and let's talk through that.
We're interviewing for new CFOs. Those are the types of things we're looking for; we don't want linear thinkers.We don't want people to just draw a path that might not be there.
We want people who can problem solve and figure stuff out because that's what you want as a business owner, as someone that's going to look at each problem uniquely and apply all of their experiences. One of the things we talk about all the time, we're not just talking about work experiences.
Yes, James has great work experience, but we're talking about books, podcasts, you've listened to conversations, your experience has come from a lot of different places.
That's one of the things that we definitely encourage our CFOs to do; read, listen, talk, do all those things because you can take those experiences and turn them into your own.
That's a great point, Jody, a great way to finish up this podcast. So I appreciate both of you guys, and I think our listeners will ge
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