Budgeting For the Emerging Company How to Develop Operational Plans that Improve Financial Performance

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1 Budgeting For the Emerging Company How to Develop Operational Plans that Improve Financial Performance EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Budgeting is a difficult task for operators of emerging businesses. Many don't do it. Planning takes a lot of time that can be spent on more important activities, such as making sales and collecting cash. Most business owners have a feel for how their business is doing and don't need a budget to tell them. Why spend the time and expense developing and maintaining one? The fact is, a plan alone will not improve corporate performance. A budget is part of a process that continually identifies, quantifies and measures the activities that drive sales and profitability. A systematic approach leads to continuous improvement which enables a small businesses to grow and control its own destiny. Systematic approaches work. According to a recent study 1 of 1,900 financial executives, companies with a disciplined approach to corporate planning reported 20 times higher cash flow, 49% higher annual revenue growth and 30% higher annual return on investment than those who do not. A well-executed planning and measurement system can result in immediate gains to a company. There are new tools and techniques that make the budgeting process simpler and more effective. New methods have been developed that standardize data collection, analysis and reporting of financial metrics. Software designed to automate and streamline the process is available at an affordable cost for emerging companies. Services have been launched where independent experts can manage the entire budgeting process on an outsourced basis. These new products have been crafted to work in any life stage of a business, from startup to expansion. This white paper provides a roadmap for implementing the systematic approach called a performance management system. The objective of the system is to align the company's strategy with financial performance in order to build and maintain continuous improvement. This improvement enables the company to generate greater amounts of internal capital, providing opportunities to create new growth and enhance valuation. Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true. - Lester R. Bittel, The Nine Master Keys of Management 1 The New Value Integrator: Insights from the Global Chief Financial Officer Study, IBM, 2010, p. 8 White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 1

2 GETTING STARTED The first step is to assign a resource to champion implementation of the performance management system. This person should be familiar with the operations of the company and trusted to understand and maintain confidential financial information. He or she can be an internal or external resource and should have some accounting knowledge. The champion's responsibility is to move the process forward. Typical activities include: Kicking off the project Defining goals & objectives Gathering data Drafting the plan Getting management approval Communicating the plan to the organization Measuring and reporting results APPROACH The two keys to success for implementing a performance management system are simplicity and standardization. Keeping the process simple enables greater understanding and buy-in from the organization. Standardizing the process makes it efficient, scalable and teachable. As the organization grows, the system expands with it. A performance management system is a process at a company, just like billing customers or depositing payments. Once implemented, it becomes part of the organization, providing continuous improvement over time. The system has five steps, shown at right. Step 1: Set Expectations & Objectives The process begins with setting expectations and overall objectives. These objectives must be measurable and controllable by the organization. To collect this data the champion can prepare a brief management survey, or meet with management to get feedback on their expectations. Many companies start the two most important metrics: sales and cash generation. In the beginning, three to five objectives are sufficient. More can be added as the system grows. As the plan is developed the metrics will be validated and likely updated as new information is known. Step 2: Collect Data Two types of data are collected. Internal data provides a current snapshot of corporate performance. External data details external market conditions and lends context to the company's financial plan. White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 2

3 Internal data Typical internal data collected includes: 1. Current financial statements 2. Sales forecasts by product 3. Planned spending on current and new employees 4. Planned operating expenses and capital purchases 5. Future fundraising activity Collect only the internal data that is useful to the plan. The data is meant to set a starting point from which future progress can be measured. External data External data is collected so the company has greater insight into its market and competitors. This data also validates the company's planning assumptions. It is important to collect and review this data as growing companies are very susceptible to changes in their marketplace. There are a number of great sources of external data, many of which are free: Market research published by trade associations of which the company is a member. Company and industry data from websites sites such as Yahoo! Finance. Enter a ticker symbol from a respected publicly traded company in the industry, and then click on links to industry data, profile and research reports. Analysts reports from major investment houses. These reports are free to clients. The point of this exercise is to understand market trends, the influence of market leaders on those trends, and financial performance of peers. Step 3: Complete Internal Review In this step the project champion assimilates all the data from the first two steps into an internal review of the business. This objective analysis is the baseline from which the operating plan will be prepared. It highlights the company's performance to date, articulates the strategy and details the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to achieving greater financial performance. Its recommendations will form the basis of the plan. The internal review can be a detailed written document or a simple meeting with key stakeholders. What is important is that the organization understands the starting point so it buys into the plan and knows what expected future performance will be. Step 4: Develop Detailed Plan The detailed plan is what the company will use to measure its ongoing performance. It is a written document that can be freely shared with the organization. It is often accompanied by a spreadsheet containing detailed financial data, some of which may be confidential. Keep the spreadsheet off to the side and use it to drive the plan document - less detail is often better when communicating the plan the first time. White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 3

4 The written plan contains the following elements and may be completed as a PowerPoint presentation. Introduction or executive summary Plan purpose & methodology Expectations & objectives Internal performance to date External influences Financial highlights: revenue, profitability, cash generation, larger purchases Key Performance Indicators Measurement & reporting: how and when the company will measure & report results Accountability: what will happen if plan is or is not met Step 5: Measure and report performance Measuring and reporting performance is the critical activity in a performance measurement system. Without regular feedback and monitoring, the system is worthless. The measures should be reported according to the schedule outlined in the plan. Most companies report monthly or quarterly. Some develop weekly "flash" reports for certain key indicators. What is important is that the organization knows it is being evaluated. That knowledge by itself will change behavior. Top performers will rise to the occasion because they want to succeed and be recognized for it. Weaker performers will be exposed. To get the behavior needed to drive continuous improvement management must make this step a priority and be disciplined in its approach. Circulating a Financial performance will improve simply because the organization knows it is being regularly evaluated regular memo, posting to an internal website, or conducting a regularly scheduled KPI meeting are all effective ways of reporting performance. These meetings should be chaired by the business owner or CEO to communicate its importance. REPEATING THE CYCLE The plan cycle lasts for a fiscal year. Generally, the plan is developed for the next fiscal year, and then measured throughout. In the 4th quarter of the current plan year, next year's plan is finalized. Once the first full cycle of planning and reporting is completed, two things should be very clear. First, the company will be much better off than if it had no performance management system. Even if the KPIs were not attained, it's fair to assume that more progress was made than if no system was developed at all. The second thing is that the process gets easier over time. A systematic approach to continuous improvement energizes an organization and encourages people to find ways to work smarter. Like other business processes, it becomes more accepted and thus gets easier to adopt, scale, and standardize. White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 4

5 REWARDING PERFORMANCE Proper incentives need to be in place to reward good performance. The most effective incentive is additional compensation. It should be paid as close as possible to when the performance goal is achieved in order to directly tie pay to performance. Cash should always be part of the reward, although many companies also offer equity incentives. Other incentives include employee recognition programs or corporate outings. THE NEED FOR SOFTWARE Software is a key component of a performance measurement system. It is the only way to rapidly assimilate lots of data and disseminate it throughout the organization. Spreadsheets, general ledger systems and planning software are the three primary software tools used. Spreadsheets Most companies already have the most popular budgeting tool - Microsoft Excel. Spreadsheets are popular because they are flexible and easy to use, but they are not automated. In fact, large companies continue to rely on spreadsheets for budgeting: 44% of companies with over $100 million annual revenue use a manual planning process 2. While spreadsheets are a great tool, they have their drawbacks: Spreadsheets are easily broken. As the spreadsheets grow and more people get involved in its production, the risk of error increases. Developing an integrated financial model in a single spreadsheet requires strong accounting and spreadsheet skills. A single formula error can corrupt an entire model and take a long time to source and correct. Updating a spreadsheet with actual data can be cumbersome. Reporting is difficult. Spreadsheets only report according to the format of the data entered and have no easy way of filtering or modifying output to accommodate different needs. General Ledger Software The next most popular tool is the budget module that ships with accounting packages such as QuickBooks. These modules offer the user the ability to generate a budget for the current fiscal year by general ledger account. Since it is part of the general ledger, management can quickly create budget vs. actual reports to manage variances. The tradeoff with using a budget module is that only amounts by general ledger account can be entered. Activities that drive the amounts cannot be tracked, such as unit sales or price per unit. The lack of depth of data coupled with a lack of automation make budget modules more suitable for top-level budgeting. 2 CFO Research Services, CFO Publishing LLC, 2011 White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 5

6 Prepackaged Planning Software Prepackaged planning software is designed to automate and standardize the planning process. It provides the company a way to model and measure the activities that drive financial performance. They contain robust reporting features to give management visibility on future financial performance at a summary or very detailed level. One very effective software package is Fintelligent Performance Manager. This desktop software enables creation of a complete financial plan faster, more accurately and with greater detail than a spreadsheet. It works like a spreadsheet so it is easy to use. The software automates many calculations and tracks actual performance. A robust reporting feature is included that produces financial statements compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and all supporting schedules. Fintelligent Forecaster is web-based software that provides automated forecasting with no spreadsheets or accounting knowledge required. This is a very useful tool for companies who want a quick and easy budget. The user answers questions about the business via a web-based wizard. The software generates complete set of GAAP-compliant financial statements and all supporting schedules in a downloadable financial report. The whole process can take less than one hour. OBSTACLES With all the apparent benefits of implementing a performance management system, why don't more companies do it? Many organizations would love to do a better job. In fact, 55% of financial executives surveyed said that they were not satisfied with operational planning and forecasting analytical capability 3. The answer has to do with time and expertise. Employees are very busy, focused on making and selling products. It takes time and a consistent effort to establish and maintain a performance measurement system. The expertise required to implement one is often unavailable in-house. There are cultural considerations as well. Some employees unaccustomed to working in a structured performance measurement system may struggle. Business owners may have to accept some hard truths about the real state of their business. Implementing the system must take these factors into account in order to succeed. SUMMARY Performance measurement systems are proven to increase sales, profits and return on investment. While implementation requires some effort, combing a proven approach with the right software will make the process more effective. Many companies do not have these systems in place, so those that adopt sound ones will have a competitive advantage. A systematic approach combined with regular reporting and measurement are the keys to continuous financial improvement. The behavior of the organization will change simply because it knows it is being measured. It is important that the company reward performance shortly after targets are achieved. This maintains the momentum required for the company to fund its continued growth and achieve long-term sustainability. 3 The New Value Integrator, p. 16 White paper: Budgeting for the Emerging Company 6

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