You've just received an invitation to a finance meeting. You roll your eyes and you quickly run through a mental list of excuses that you could employ. Sound familiar?
If that's the case then you've been doing it all wrong. Properly managed, a regular finance meeting allows the owner to have a clear picture over the financial performance of their business and it allows the people who work in the finance team (internal, external, it doesn't matter) to bring issues to the table and to look for ways to improve the bottom line. These meetings need not take ages nor be eye-wateringly boring.
So, what does a well managed finance meeting look like? There is no magic formula, but if you take the following and mold it to fit your business then I'm sure you'll be on your way to brilliant and productive finance meetings in no time.
Frequency These meetings should be at least monthly for small businesses, and more frequent for larger businesses. As a general guide, if there are only a few people involved in your finance function then monthly is probably sufficient, but if you have a full-on finance team then you might want to make them fortnightly or even weekly. Remember that even if it is only monthly that's no excuse for owners to not be regularly reviewing the financial records in the interim!
Attendance Should be mandatory for the relevant people. For most SME businesses we'd recommend that the meeting consists of the owner as well as their adviser. The adviser might be their accountant or it could be a business coach or an external CFO (also known as a 'virtual CFO'). If you have key managers in the business then it's likely they'll need to be present also. I tend to shy away from involving the bookkeeper as the adviser should be across everything at that level anyway and you know what they say about too many cooks!
Duration Short and sweet. I'd aim to keep these meetings to under an hour, especially if you're meeting more than monthly.
Location The meeting should be held somewhere private as you'll be discussing the finances of your business. If you have a boardroom, great, if not ask if you can use the boardroom of your adviser.
Agenda This is probably the most important part and I'd suggest the following format, though you'll want to customise for your business as everyone is a little different and one size doesn't fit all.
- Pressing issues - this item is for any fire-fighting that might be required
- Financial reports - stick to the highs and lows and be sure to include debtors and creditor listings for review
- Review of KPIs - everything on track or do we need to adjust strategy?
- Review of budgets - are we invoicing what we said? Are we spending too much?
- Other matters - could include upcoming tax obligations, staff issues (e.g. bonuses), etc.
When you're going through this agenda you might notice that some things double up - for example you might note sales are down in (2) when you review the P&L, again in (3) when your sales KPI is down and again in (4) when you see you're not meeting budget. That's okay, you don't need to rehash it for every item, but what is important is that the agenda is thorough enough that everything important to get covered off.
Enthusiasm! It's doesn't help matters when the owner drags their heels to the regular finance meeting. It sends a bad message to the rest of the team and can lead to frustration being felt by the other attendees. The financial health of your business dictates whether you'll be a success or a failure and not being fully aware of the financial status of your business is akin to a pilot flying safely without looking at their instruments - it just doesn't happen. If you struggle to get excited about numbers just think about what positive results represent - success, holidays, time with the family, early retirement, etc.
Now that you've got a good idea of the ingredients that make up a successful finance meeting you're going to want to know the next steps to make this happen. Most business owners will allocate responsibility for organising these meetings to a member of their admin team (e.g. a receptionist or PA) and then allocate responsibility for prepare the agenda and relevant financial reports to an external adviser (e.g. virtual CFO or their accountant) unless they have a senior person inhouse (e.g. CFO or finance director). Once that is done you just need to turn up with a smile on your face and a readiness to get excited by the numbers!
We run finance meetings for plenty of different businesses and that includes handling all the reporting requirements. If you're interested to know more you can get in touch to see how a virtual CFO might be able to help your business.