When Your Controller Gets in the Way of Growth: 8 Signs to Look For

Your controller should be an integral part of your strategic plan to scale. In fact, they should be a tactical partner in most aspects of growth.

When small problems affecting your business growth begin to seem anything but small, it may be time to examine whether your finance team is helping you scale or stunting your growth. Here are eight signs your controller is holding your business back.

1). Your Controller is Always Running Behind and Making Excuses


Here’s the truth: Your controller should be a strategic financial partner who is as proactive as you are about your business success. Or nearly, anyways. If your controller is often making excuses and falling behind, they aren’t in a position to help you grow. Operating with old financials is a huge hurdle to setting up your business to scale. Find out why requests and/or closing the books is taking longer than it should.  Look for an accountant or service that keeps you in the loop before you even knew you had fallen out of it.

2). You Do Not Know Anyone Else on Your Accounting Team Besides Your Controller


If you’re not allowed to speak to anyone else on the accounting team because your controller is a control freak (excuse the pun), that is hurting your company’s ability to scale. Here’s what I have noticed about accounting teams bottlenecked by a controller who cannot delegate: They end up with high turnover because anybody good doesn’t stick around long.

3). You’re Not Even 100% Sure What They do for You


A sad but true reality of the relationship between business owners and controllers is this: They hand off the monthly and yearly financial work and then remain in the dark about what their controller is doing behind the scenes. If your goal is to scale, you should be a regular part of conversations about your finances. Even if the majority of the work has been delegated to a controller, there’s no one who knows your industry better than you.

4). You are Always Having to Explain How Your Industry and Market Work


Speaking of, while you’ll inevitably be the expert on your business, a true financial partner should get to know your industry and market environment in order to best advise you on strategic decision making. Look for a financial partner who, from the outset, can prove they at least understand the high-level operations of your business and where you should be headed.

5). They Only Focus on Pinching the Bottom Line


Controllers generally tend to hang in the backward-looking financial safe zone, focusing on shortcuts instead of strategies. Accountants are traditionally seen as pinching the bottom line (e.g., “This is how to save 10% more by cutting salaries”). That isn’t helping anyone scale. You want to grow by paying the best people to do the best job.

  • What are your goals?
  • Do you know which key drivers will get you there?

If you don’t, your controller should. If they are getting defensive when you ask these questions, consider it a red flag: Your controller is holding your business back.

They should be able to help identify those metrics and clearly tie those KPIs to budget items. We firmly believe that well-thought out, budgeted drivers lead to revenue growth.

6). Faxes, Photocopies and Accordion Files are Their Go-To File Management System


If your data is a prisoner of paper, it cannot be accessible for analysis. Perhaps it goes without saying, but if your controller is still holding on to snail mail and paper filing, it is time to rethink your go-to money person.

Admittedly, the accounting industry has not always been on the forefront of technological advances. That said, there are hundreds of cloud solutions that are specifically catered to finance departments. Your controller should be investigating the best options to get you real-time data.Imagine fine tuning your marketing and sales strategy without current numbers behind customer acquisition cost or inventory turnover. Many companies operate this way, but it does not make it right. Having that accessibility is paramount to saving employee time and providing resources to other essential departments for scaling.

7). They Do Not Explain How to Read Financial Statements


If you’re in the dark, it could be a sign your controller is too. If you ask your controller to explain budget variance analysis, and they cannot easily and concisely explain it to you, that is a problem. For example, if you are looking at your year-to-date (YTD) marketing expense, and it’s double your budget and your controller can’t tell you why, they are definitely holding your business back.

8). All Debt is Bad


It isn’t. It really is that simple. While you certainly want to show investors and other stakeholders that you’re in a good cash flow position, if you’re reinvesting in order to grow, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason to be short-term in the red. Your controller should be fundamental in that decision-making process. They should be able to demonstrate to your stakeholders the financial projections to support that investment in growth. Debt used in a responsible way can be very beneficial to accelerate growth. In fact, in many instances, compared to equity, debt can be cheaper, providing tax savings to a company.

When you are ready to scale, the last thing you need is someone on your team impeding your growth. Use the eight signs above to know if your controller is holding your business back.


When do you need a controller for your business?

You would benefit from an outsourced controller if you and your staff are short on time and need more insight from your finances. Additionally, if you find yourself hoping to increase profitability or reduce debt. For example, if you struggle to understand exactly how your finances can leverage your operations, or vice versa, an outsourced controller can help.

Tips for hiring the right controller:

  • Your controller should have a good handle on your industry and market position. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re having to always explain how your business works.
  • Pay special attention to your controller’s approach to problems. While a controller does typically focus on historical financials, if the candidate you are considering is only focused on pinching the bottom line, then by default, you can expect they will struggle to see the big picture.
  • Ask the controller candidate what kind of approach they take to debt. It says a lot about how they think about finances and whether they have the ability to think outside the box.

How much does an outsourced CFO cost?

We save our clients both time and money. An outsourced controller can replace at least one full-time employee and we have seen savings of up to 30%. See our pricing tiers to learn more about our base packages.

Our Cloud CFO Services offer the best of both worlds: Our managers cover all controller-level needs with the support of our associates for your day-to-day bookkeeping operations. Because our team works with a number of business models, we can offer industry-expertise that you will not normally find in a controller.

Plus, you can gain access to our strategic CFO check-ups a few times a year. We believe this is just the right amount to fuel your growth. Our awesome CFO service add-on offers custom accounting at a price that fits within many budgets.

 Get in touch to learn more about how we can take care of your controller and CFO needs.

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