What Does a Fractional CFO Do?

Fractional CFO

I had a conversation the other day with a small group of venture capitalists and seed fund investors. I love talking with these types of people – they are so passionate and have super creative business ideas. When I shared my Fractional CFO services framework and approach to helping smaller growing companies, I also was able to answer the question

What does a fractional CFO do?

We are a guide who provides strategic financial guidance and expertise to businesses on a part-time contractual basis, helping businesses manage cash flow, plan growth strategies, and make informed decisions without the cost of a full-time executive. This role is especially beneficial for startups and SMBs needing flexible, high-level financial advice tailored to their specific challenges and opportunities.

While every business is slightly different from the next and may require a slightly different approach, most businesses need the following data every month in addition to keeping up with the bookkeeping processes that lead to a strong monthly close:

Three basic financial statements: (income statement, balance sheet, statement of cash flow)
Monthly 12-month forecast
Weekly scorecard comparing weekly KPIs to expectations
13-week cash flow forecast
Monthly CFO reports
A regular, intentional meeting to discuss the results.

I generally start conversations with potential clients by ensuring they understand the three basic financial statements and why these are so important. These are:

Income statement.  Also known as the P&L (Profit & Loss) statement, shows revenue, expenses, and net profit over a certain period. Net income is zeroed out annually and moved to what is called “retained earnings” (which is a balance sheet account and means income that has stayed in the business since inception).  At the beginning of the new year, you start pushing the ball up the hill again.

Balance sheet. This shows your assets, liabilities, and net worth at a snapshot in time. It shows what you own and what you owe on a particular date. The assets and liabilities are listed in the ‘ease of liquidity’ order. Liquidity refers to how quickly you can turn those assets into cash.

Cash flow statement. This shows sources and uses of cash categorized by operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities. (In other words, cash flow from operations, from investing, and financing activities.)

Then we look at the other elements:

The monthly forecast/weekly scorecards generally take a few iterations to become useful for a company. We concentrate on the monthly, first. Once it is solid, then we can more easily parse down the numbers to a weekly forecast and develop the weekly scorecard.

Weekly Scorecard comparing KPIs: Every company’s KPIs are slightly different, and we may need to track a variety of specific things depending on quarterly goals. Business owners usually have questions like:
What sort of data should we be tracking? How many KPIs should we track? Generally, you should track revenue, drivers of revenue, gross margin, labor utilization, cost efficiency, asset velocity, and cash and cash flow – actual compared to expected results for the week.

I track all this in Excel. There are some awesome tools out there for dashboards that are fully automated and contain tons of great information and graphics. I love the look but I find the best scorecards are prepared manually and contain surprisingly little data. This allows everyone to focus on the highest-value data points. High-tech is great, but we still need high-touch.

The 13-week cash flow forecast contains cash receipts and cash disbursements by week for three months.   In a turnaround, the 13WCFF is updated daily, but for a typical business, I like to update it weekly so it’s always a rolling 3-month look forward.

CFO Reports (or Monthly Reporting Package, or Monthly Operating Report) are produced monthly. They vary by business but generally contain the three basic financial statements, the 12-month forecasted P&L and Balance Sheet, the current month’s P&L compared to forecast, trend graphs for sales, margin, asset velocity measures, and significant goal tracking, top 5 company goals and status, current 13-WCFF, top customers for the month and year to date.

Regardless of the format, this data should be prepared and discussed regularly. This is where an intentional meeting between CFO and business leaders comes in. Weekly is best but monthly can work. This way you’ll see if you are hitting the numbers or not, and helps you course-correct more easily if you aren’t. It also helps to avoid big surprises later in the year. It allows the CFO to become a vital ally – not just presenting numbers, but helping you understand “why” the numbers are a certain way. A discerning CFO will also have good suggestions for more success in reaching goals.

If your business doesn’t have a CFO, you should seriously consider one. If I can help your company with its fractional CFO needs, contact me!