Using Strategy, Finance, and Culture to Guide your Business Philosophy

A business philosophy is relevant to every business.  It is especially important for small businesses. It plays into everyday interactions between people – from employee to customer, employer to employee, and among employees. The key is to have a solid foundation built from your strategy, finance, and culture. 

Business philosophy outlines the purpose of your existence and the goals you take on. Effectively, it’s the heart of your business. When strategy is well defined, the world is your oyster! A business philosophy helps both customers and employees understand your core values and beliefs. It becomes an integral part of your brand, your how you hire, and how you relate with customers, vendors, investors, bankers, everyone.

To ensure consistency, a business philosophy should be incorporated into every part of the business cycle. It guides your own decision-making and establishes long-term planning and effective communication and management. Customer-oriented philosophies tend to market better and studies have shown that 5 out of 6 customers will pay 25% for better services, which starts with a strong business philosophy!

How do businesses use strategy, finance, and culture to guide their philosophy? We will guide you through the process to help you begin to discover how to better define your own strategy, finance, and culture. 

What is strategy?

A strategy is a road map with step-by-step actions to lead to success. It allows you to work smarter within your business as decisions are easier to make when they are guided by an overarching philosophy. Success comes from thoughtful strategic planning.

A well thought out, strong business strategy will help you:

  • Adapt to market changes,
  • Manage financial resources,
  • Increase market return on investment (ROI),
  • Understand capacity constraints and thoughtfully adjust as the business changes,
  • Improve team collaboration,
  • Evolve into the incredible and thriving business you were meant to be!

Each business will have a unique strategy. Start with the following:

  1. Assess: Take note of the general state of business in your industry. How do similar companies operate?
  2. Position: Set a specific direction for the business and align the various elements needed to succeed. 
  3. Document: This may seem obvious, but it is an often-missed step. To stay focused on the business goals, define and document the road map.  You must then focus on communicating the strategy in an exciting and impactful way. Define your milestones and how you will achieve them.  Measure your achievement with well thought out key performance indicators (KPIs).
  4. Implementation: Keep the plan on target by talking to customers and employees, this will provide you with a pulse on how your strategy is being accepted. Hold brainstorming sessions regularly with employees to check in.

What is culture?

Having a healthy company culture is the basis for ultimate success. It provides employees with a sense of purpose and sets the tone for acceptable behaviors. It allows employees to build meaningful relationships within the business and supports their needs professionally and personally. It encompasses multiple aspects of personnel relations, inspiring opportunities for personal development and holding them accountable to expectations. Employees should feel comfortable with communication throughout the organization.

Leaders within an organization must set the tone for culture. A healthy company culture encourages personal growth, fosters trust, supports risk-taking, offers flexibility and gives praise and acknowledgement. A toxic culture will steer your business to a grinding halt.

Every company has a culture. A healthy culture can be achieved by:

  1. Establishing core values, communicating them to all stakeholders and using them as the basis for which you do everything from hiring employees, working with customers and even working with vendors.
  2. Lead by example and share your vision.  Define your “Why”.  Does everyone agree?
  3. Cultivate the right environment by hiring employees that exhibit company values.

What is finance?

We use the term finance to mean a variety of things.  A healthy financial outlook is key to running a successful business.  How you balance and report on the various inflows and outflows daily, monthly, and annually determines your profitability, your equity value, and ultimately how much you are paying in federal and state taxes.

We often encounter businesses who are understaffed in this area.  Some even see it as a necessary evil but fail to allocate enough resources to hire the right solutions.  A fractional CFO and Controller will provide a cost-effective way for businesses to get the talent they need to succeed at a fraction of what you would pay an employee.  A strong Controller is rarely an effective CFO. A bookkeeper is not a Controller. Every business needs a strong accounting component to understand where they are and where they are going.  Controllers report on historical information.  They make sure your accounting records are accurately portrayed.  CFOs are the forward thinkers.  They spot trends, they establish and review KPIs and provide strategic guidance to help you achieve your goals.

CEFO Advisors has built its business philosophy on strategy, finance, and culture. We use this process to inspire clients to create a connection and foster cohesion in their businesses as well. These core tenants help to establish a solid framework from which businesses can grow. CEFO Advisors works with businesses at all stages of their development whether at startup or with a family-owned company who has been in business for over 100 years.  We add the leadership, accounting expertise and advisory ability to assist you in reaching your goals!

CEFO Advisors Welcomes Stacey Lybrand as HR Business Partner

The CEFO Advisors team is excited to welcome Stacey Lybrand as their Human Resources Business Partner! Stacey brings over twenty years of HR experience to the team across multiple industries. Stacey will be spearheading a new advisory service for CEFO, HR Outsourcing and Oversight.

“This is a great fit for me because I can get back into doing internal HR, which I love but also assisting CEFO Advisors clients on compliance, employee handbooks, and all components of HR,” Stacey noted. “I find that HR is a full-time job regardless of the size of your business. This is a great offering and aligns with CEFO Advisors mission of strategy, finance, and culture.”

Stacey is excited to help bridge the gap for small businesses to make sure they are fulfilling compliance protocols. Regulations are continually changing and we all need an expert like Stacey to stay on top of changing legislation, regulation and advise of the necessary steps and protocols. CEFO Advisors has already begun working with several small businesses on their HR needs. 

Stacey was particularly keen to join CEFO Advisors because of our holistic approach to finance and culture, which is a pairing that most small businesses need. Stacey recently completed the Culture Talk Certification and is a Culture Talk Certified Partner. She will be focusing on organizational and staff development through the use of the Culture Talk Survey system.

You can catch Stacey traveling and spending time with her family and dogs on her off time! Stay updated on CEFO Advisors and follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cefo-advisors/

Jessica Osso joins CEFO Advisors as Business Manager

The CEFO Advisors team is excited to welcome Jessica Osso as Business Manager! Jessica brings over fourteen years of experience in administrative/office management work to the team including IT and accounting support. We are thrilled to have Jessica and her can-do attitude join us!

“I joined CEFO Advisors because I knew it was a great opportunity to expand my administrative background and expand my marketing skills,” Jessica noted.

While Jessica is our new Business Manager, she will spend a portion of her time focusing on marketing and lead generation. Her contributions to our team will not only help CEFO Advisors but will benefit our clients as well.

During her free time, Jessica loves fishing with her husband especially in Cape Cod!  

Stay updated on CEFO Advisors and follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cefo-advisors/

Elizabeth Hale joins CEFO Advisors as Staff Accountant

CEFO Advisors is excited to welcome Elizabeth Hale to the team as Staff Accountant. Elizabeth previously worked in retirement accounting on both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. She also has experience in drafting financial statements, facilitating audits and performing monthly and quarterly ending accounting duties. Elizabeth is a wealth of experience and knowledge!

“I am excited to join CEFO Advisors! I wanted to take this opportunity to learn and gain skills in various industries through the businesses that are supported here. I am excited to grow with CEFO Advisors,” Elizabeth, said.

Elizabeth’s goals include continuing to develop new skills while building off her existing accounting experience. When she’s not busy with the CEFO Advisors team, she loves cooking and spending time outdoors seeking out new adventures with her husband, son and dog. “We love the summer and one of our favorite things to do is hike and check out as much as we can across the Capital Region!”

Stay updated on CEFO Advisors and follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cefo-advisors/

The art of developing a high performing team

There are lessons we learn and then we learn them again. I challenged myself to really listen yesterday when one of our CFO’s at CEFO Advisors, discussed the first 90 days of onboarding a client at our all-staff meeting yesterday.  He meticulously took us through what went well, how the team overcame challenges, and what we learned. He spoke about the way our team worked seamlessly with the client and how trust and respect were developed early on within the process.  He spoke about how we learned and embraced the strengths of each person to guide and establish our process. I watched the faces of the CEFO team as he reviewed what had been accomplished while he praised each member of our team as well as the individuals we worked with at the client, the attorneys, bankers, auditors, and investors.  All of these people contributed to the overall success of that first 90 days.

He explained that although the onboarding process is mapped out during the initial discovery phase, there will be times that we have to pivot and change course to gain efficiencies and establish best practices. The process is strengthened by the acceptance and understanding that it is ok to change course as needed. It is an extremely healthy and accepting way to manage people and processes. There is little in business that is perfect. Successful relationships are built in those moments when you change course for the best results.

What do you need to establish a healthy high performing team?

  • Establish a culture steeped in learning and understanding.
  • Identify the strengths of each individual and assign responsibilities based on those strengths.
  • Understand everyone’s communication style.
  • Develop trust early on.
  • Lead with honesty, respect, and the passion to do what is best for your team and business. 

 I challenge CEOs and business owners to evaluate their culture. Embrace where you are and take steps to make those changes needed to create your best team. Ask the hard questions.

  • Have you developed your team to be a success?  
  • What do they need from you to attain the best results?  
  • Are expectations clearly laid out and followed through on?
  • Is success celebrated?

Balancing strategy, finance, and culture is the key to winning and having a high-performing team.

Life lessons in crisis

Resilience. Stamina. Strength. Hope.  These are words I remember when I think back to 9/11. It was a horrible day filled with resilience, stamina, strength, and hope. I do not ever remember fear. There was no time for fear. That emotion never entered my mind nor the minds of others making their way uptown from Wall Street that day. Old, young, disabled, rich, poor, or destitute, the playing field on that day was leveled. We no longer wore labels. Color, race, and religion did not matter as we all walked the streets together. New Yorkers came together with water, food and clothing. It was the generosity of the NY community on that day that will always be front of mind, and the resilience that followed reminds us all that we can come back.

 

I thought about that day and the weeks that followed as I maneuvered through the challenge of this last year. Although not the same circumstances, my behavior and that of my colleagues, family, clients, and friends remains resilient and their stamina, although challenged, remains strong.

 

The difference today from almost twenty years ago, is fear.  This year we felt afraid.  This year we felt anxious.  This year we felt alone. It has been thirteen months since the pandemic forced the world to shut down and that anxiety and fear remains. Our government gave businesses Band-Aids.  Many businesses embraced those Band-Aids:  PPP1, PPP2, EIDL, grants and gifts.  Most businesses made decisions to change their business models, tighten their belts, and make changes that should have been made regardless of the pandemic.  It was not easy.  The path forwards most days was murky at best, but many businesses are stronger today as a result. They were able to challenge and embrace the changes forced upon them, adapt, and reinvent. The fear and anxiety are still here but we are beginning to feel hope. 

 

I challenge you to take some time to evaluate the last thirteen months.  Were you profitable despite the pandemic?  What changes did you make that you continue to embrace? Some of the changes that we see businesses continue to embrace include:

 

  1. Financial cushion.  A reserve of 3 months expenses is not enough. The minimum should be 6 months.
  2. Staffing.  We found out we can do more with less.  Understanding capacity and embracing productivity is the key to long-term profitability.
  3. Retention of customers.  Know what your customers need today. It has probably changed since the pandemic. Embrace the changes and support them. This may have an immediate effect on your profitability but will bring long-term rewards.
  4. Retention of staff. Have a strategy that embraces flexibility with accountability. The work will still be the same, but many people found they were more productive when allowed some flexibility in their schedules.
  5. Adaptation to new technology.  Meetings and calls over Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams became the norm changing the way we do business today.
  6. Mediocrity no longer works.  How you measure success will ensure high performance.
  7. Understanding that having a strategy balanced with culture and strong financial reporting is the only path forward.

 

Only time will tell what the next thirteen months will bring and I encourage you to not forget the lessons learned in the previous thirteen.  Keep them close and remember you are resilient; and you have the strength and stamina to continue to thrive.  Replace fear with gratitude and embrace the knowledge that anything is possible.

Mentoring for a Purpose

The world has changed and with it, so has the workplace, and how we manage and train staff.  Gone are the old days (circa 1985 working for a CPA firm) where cut and run was the norm.  We have evolved from 1985 and the pandemic has made us more aware and creative.  The culture of the organization is the key to the success of any employee related program.

The question really is, what do we, as small business owners, do to attract and retain great people?  Establishing a strong mentoring program is an excellent start.  Mentorship can work in many ways.  It is not a one size fits all proposition.  It is not a program that business owners can say they support without backing it up with something they honestly believe in.  Awareness and a willingness to embrace the program starting from the top is integral for the program to be successful for everyone. 

There is no one size fits all solution to developing a mentorship program that works.  Mentors can be used to open an opportunity to help others build self-esteem and confidence in their role, whether it’s due to a promotion, or just something another employee is struggling with. Mentorship at its very core is the sharing the gift of knowledge or an experience with another individual.  It should not be felt like it is an obligation by the mentor or mentee.  If that is the case, then one or the other is not quite ready to participate.

A mentorship program can be formal or casual or a combination of both.  Bill Danaher is the Director of Staff and Process at CEFO Advisors.  He suggests that employees should reach out to mentors under any of the four situations:

1) You “earned” a promotion but are being held back. Let us say you are highly effective in your role and your manager agrees, but they indicated to you that you need to improve in one select area. Perhaps you need to improve your presentation skills or get your reports issued in a timelier manner, and until you strengthen these skills, they will not recommend you for a promotion. Why not tackle that area and go after that promotion?

2) You notice a skill area that needs improvement. Maybe you recognize areas you would like to get better at. For example, my son works as a portfolio analyst at Fidelity. Early in his career he made a presentation at work which he was extremely nervous about and did not do well at. He recognized a weak area that needed improvement, so he signed up for public speaking with Toastmasters (they typically assign mentors). He stayed with Toastmasters for over 2 years and earned a Competent Communicator certificate. As a result, he was recently able to successfully complete a 20-minute virtual presentation to 800 colleagues. Think about it like this: you are either getting better or “treading water” and if you do not improve your skills constantly then you are falling behind your peers.

3) One of your peers points out an area where you need to improve. We all have “blind spots” in our careers. Those are areas you thought you had an acceptable level of skill, but others recognize immediately that you need improvement. For example, you are told that your relationship building skills lack diplomacy or a coworker says your time management skills need to improve. You may have always thought you were both diplomatic and efficient, so this feedback really surprises you, but you know that perhaps you should listen. Once someone points out a legitimate “blind spot” it is on you to address it.

4) Learn from the best. Have you ever seen that world class athletes have a strong support system? For example, major league baseball players have hitting coaches, strength coaches, mental skills coaches and so on. Pro golfers typically have a swing coach and sports psychologist. If these elite athletes at the top echelon of their profession rely on coaching to master their craft, then why not you? Don’t you want to master your craft? Perhaps one of the reasons they are world class is because of all the coaching they receive.

Consider signing up with a mentor that has demonstrated skills in the areas you want to improve in. Yes, it takes a bit of humility and willingness to try some new approaches. Change is hard; it is uncomfortable to learn new ways of doing things. But over time the results are worth so much more than the effort you put in. So, go for it! Build your confidence, build self-awareness, love your job, get a promotion and feel fulfilled at a job you love!

If statistics are your thing, here are a few (1):

  • 71% of Fortune 500companies have mentoring programs.
  • 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if they were offered opportunities to learn and grow.
  • 67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring.
  • 55% of businesses felt that mentoring had a positive impact on their profits.
  • Mentoring programs boosted minority representation at the management level from 9% to 24%.
  • Top reasons for millennials wanting to quit their jobs are ‘Not enough opportunities to advance’ and 35% and ‘Lack of learning and development opportunities’ at 28%.
  • 71% of people with a mentor say their company provides them with good opportunities to advance in their career, compared with 47% of those without a mentor.
  • More than 4 in 10 workers who don’t have a mentor say they’ve considered quitting their job in the past three months.
  • 87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence.

I have several local mentors that I call upon on a regular basis.  Bonny Boice, who is an Executive Coach, Theresa Agresta, Founder of Culture Talk and Denise Horan of Integrated Management Sales Consulting are several of the women who have become my mentors.  Trust me, they are total game changers!

(1)The Importance of Mentoring in the Workplace, November 20, 2019 by Nicola Cronin

 

Communication in the Workplace: Generational, Gender, and Role Differences

The common workplace certainly has adapted. It has to! (To keep up with the ever changing needs of employees and customers.) This means communication tactics within organizations have shifted as well. There are several factors to explore that have contributed to this shift in workplace communication, including the number of generations in the workforce and the evolution of technology. Despite the differences in generations, gender and professional roles, there are ways to navigate communication in the workplace successfully.

Generational differences in workplace communication – and how to bridge the gap.

For the first time in history, five generations are part of the workforce at the same time. Yes, five! Believe it or not, this is a GOOD thing and business owners have to use it to their advantage. Each of these generations have different communication styles based on their upbringing, experiences, values, and state of the working environment during their career. It’s important to recognize the general differences in communication styles among generations to learn how best to communicate across them. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

  • Traditionalists were born between 1925 and 1945 and make up the smallest part of the active workforce. This generation is most comfortable with communication face-to-face and via telephone. They started in the workforce when typewriters were commonly used.
  • Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and were the largest generation until that time. They were accustomed to communication with rotary-style phones and were part of the workforce when conference calls became commonplace.
  • Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1977 and experienced several major workplace communication innovations, including email, mobile and texting.
  • Generation Y (or millennials) were born between 1978 and 1989 and have officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest generation. They have a reputation for being tethered to technology and their devices, and their workplace communication style comprises of smartphones and web meetings.
  • Generation Z members were born between 1990 and 1999 and are known for starting a movement back to traditionalist views. Their workplace communication style includes social media, workplace instant messaging, video conferencing and face-to-face meetings.

When communicating across multiple generations in the workplace, remember that language is ever-evolving, so meanings and interpretations of words or sayings may change. When in doubt, use simplistic language that you’re confident everyone will understand, and clarify if necessary. Just to be safe!

Especially when communicating digitally (e.g., text, IM, and email), tone may be difficult to interpret. We’ve all taken offense to an email before when it was hard to interpret tone…it happens to the best of us! When in doubt, face-to-face communication can eliminate any potential translation issues. If that’s not possible, talking can be better than text communication as it allows for a dialogue and the opportunity to ask questions. Even better? A quick video call where you can see the other person’s face, read their expressions and connect on a deeper level.

Everyone – no matter which generation they’re part of – wants to be accepted and make a good impression. (Remember that expression about only getting to make one first impression, so make it good!) The fear that others have a negative perception of them within a workplace with multiple generations is real, so address fears when communicating across generations.

To further complicate generational differences, add in the evolution of technology. In the mid-1980s, collaboration was introduced in the workplace. Since then, digital transformation has allowed for closer collaboration with tools like video conferencing, simultaneous document editing and unified communication (e.g., Google Drive, QuickBooks). These have enabled workplaces to connect on a larger scale.  

With the shift to more remote, work-from-home models, employees are being allowed to do their job on their own team as long as it meets employer expectations. They are frequently using their own devices (read: cell phones) to feel more connected at work when they’re not formally sitting at their desk. (Asynchronous collaboration means everyone can work at different times on the same project and synchronous collaboration means everyone is working on the same task simultaneously.)

Gender nuances in workplace communication – and how to navigate the differences. 

Men and women sociologically have different strengths in communication skills, which can be applied when interacting in the workplace. Because of the inherent differences (à la men “are from Mars, women are from Venus”), tips for effective communication between genders include:

  • Getting to the point quickly and concisely,
  • Standing your ground,
  • And playing to your individual strengths.

Women’s strengths include the ability to read body language and pick up on non-verbal cues, listening thoroughly, and effectively displaying empathy. Weaknesses *can* include being overly emotional, getting off topic easily and using non-authoritative tone and language. Strengths that are overdone can also become weaknesses when it comes to interacting with the other gender as well.

Men’s strengths include physical presence, to-the-point interactions, and powerful body language signals. Their weaknesses tend to include being too blunt and direct, too confident in their own opinion, and insensitive to audience reaction.

How to better communicate across different types of teams in the workplace.

Studies have reported recent growth in teamwork in the workplace. And while there are several team structures apparent in the workplace, the idea is that a team is striving toward a common goal and there’s ascribed roles that create individual and mutual accountability.

The types of teams you’ll see within a workforce include:

  • Cross-functional teams, which pulls team members from different functional areas across an organization to complete a task.
  • Taskforces are usually a group of specialists on a topic used to solve a specific problem.
  • Virtual teams are a group of individuals working toward a common goal from different locations.
  • Self-managed teams are a group of employees responsible for generating all or most of a product or idea and carrying out the execution of goal.

Teams frequently come under fire in execution; sometimes team members do too much or not enough. To best communicate within a group, use these pro tips:

  • Be interested in other people; ask questions that are genuine and actively listen to answers.
  • Show you’re decisive.
  • Make eye contact when you’re speaking to people.
  • Always keep a sense of humor.
  • Be positive and realistic.
  • Consider the message you’re trying to convey, why you’re communicating this message, and to whom the message is directed.
  • Assess the audience and the level of argument your message needs.
  • Be clear, concise, and use plain language.
  • Plan content carefully.

At CEFO Advisors, communication is an essential element of business as we have employees from a variety of different age groups, genders, and beliefs. Using our philosophy of strategy, finance, and culture, we are able to bridge the gap that may exist in the many facets of financial advising for our clients. As a small business, it is our job to use our business philosophy to create a continuation of healthy practices in communication to better interact with clients and coworkers alike.

Put Profit First: Make Your Business A Money-Making Machine

There is definitely not a shortage of business and finance-related books, and it can be overwhelming to pick the best one for what you’re looking to learn more about. Let me make it a bit easier for you and call out one of my absolute favorites that I recommend to every business owner I know – Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz.

Are you ready to learn why?

This book gives a step-by-step guide of how small business owners can be successful using a method called “profit first.” This system creates the opportunity for businesses to fund themselves. It allows your business to serve you instead of you always serving your business. MIC DROP! Who wouldn’t want that? Michalowicz wrote this book because he believes lack of cash reserves is the biggest source of entrepreneurial stress and depression – and he wanted to eradicate it!

Let’s dive into it.

The concept is that you pay into profit with every sale. There should be a predetermined percentage of each sale that gets earmarked as profit. This way you become profitable from day one; it’s not a milestone, but rather a habit. 

Of course, there’s more to this profit first concept than siloing funds. The anecdotes from some of the 175,000 companies that have found this method successful for them is what makes this book such a great read. There is a deliberate simplification of financial concepts – and other explanations of business operation concepts.

Did you start your business because you wanted to do something you love? Or maybe to not be under scrutiny of the common working-class system anymore? That’s great! But you still need to make money. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your small business’s finances, try a profit first approach – and watch your business grow and thrive. In the words of Michalowicz, transform it into a “money-making machine.”

Tyler Adams joins CEFO Advisors as Accounting Manager

CEFO Advisors is excited to welcome Tyler Adams to the team as Accounting Manager. Coming from a public accounting background with a CPA license, Tyler is eager to work with a wide range of CEFO Advisors’ clients and bring his previous insight to their growth strategies.
“My professional goals are to learn as much as possible and to help clients achieve their business goals through effective and efficient accounting practices,” Adams said.
Tyler will be working on establishing financial record systems for clients and ensuring that their books are one hundred percent accurate. “I am most looking forward to working with the CEFO Advisors team, learning from their expertise and bringing that knowledge to our clients,” Adams noted.
When he takes a break from being an accounting whiz, Tyler enjoys working out and cooking as much as possible! He’s also a Buffalo Bills season ticket holder and loves to attend as many games as possible.
Stay updated on CEFO Advisors and follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cefo-advisors/