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Unleashing the Power of Portfolio CFOs for Startups and Founders

finance career start-ups & fast growth businesses May 19, 2023

Having just completed releasing a podcast that talks quite a bit about working as a Portfolio CFO/FD, I thought I would develop this topic further this week.

There is quite an increase of portfolio CFOs over recent years and therefore founders now have access to a unique and flexible resource to support their financial strategies, which is really important in this early stage and fast pace.

I want to go through this at two angles. 

Firstly, the concept of portfolio CFOs and their invaluable contributions to startups. Secondly, I will delve into the journey of becoming a portfolio CFO for experienced accountants seeking to embrace this exciting role.

 

What is a Portfolio CFO and How Can They Help Founders and Startups?

A portfolio CFO, also known as a part-time finance director or interim finance director, is a seasoned finance professional who provides part-time CFO services to multiple clients simultaneously. Unlike traditional CFOs who work exclusively for a single company, interim CFOs leverage their expertise and experience across various organisations.

There are many ways in which founders can benefit from this set-up including:

Expert Financial Guidance:

A portfolio CFO, with their extensive knowledge and experience, offers expert financial guidance to founders and startups. They provide strategic advice on financial strategies, forecasting, risk management, and funding options, tailored to the specific needs of each client. Their diverse industry exposure allows them with valuable insights to drive financial success.

Part-time CFOs are also outside the organisation, so they can give a different perspective compared to the strategic leaders who are in-house.

Cost-Effective Solution:

A big motivation for founders is that working with a portfolio CFO is a cost-effective solution for startups that may not require a full-time CFO. Founders can leverage the expertise of a CFO without incurring the substantial costs associated with a permanent hire. The flexibility of part-time CFO also allows startups to scale their financial support as needed, aligning with their growth trajectory.

Not only do you get strategic skills from a part-time CFO or Interim Finance Director for a smaller price, but these strategic leaders also take some of the tasks that are currently being performed by the Founder.  It's very common for the CEO/Founder or COO to be covering the CFO gap and therefore by alleviating them of these tasks they can focus on what they are skilled at.

Strategic Planning and Execution:

Portfolio CFOs excel in strategic financial planning and execution. They assist founders in developing comprehensive financial plans, including budgeting, cash flow management, and financial modelling. By leveraging their extensive experience, Interim Finance Directors help founders make informed decisions and optimise financial performance, ensuring sustainable growth for the business.

 

What is it Like to be a Portfolio CFO or Interim Finance Director and How Can Experienced Accountants Become One?

I personally have been a Portfolio CFO now since July 2019 and I love it.  It does take a couple of years to work out what works as far as your scheduling and how you work best is concerned.  I now know how I can optimise my own performance and I can use that for my clients.  

In this post COVID world, I've also found that I can now be more productive working largely remote.  Prior to COVID I was always at a clients office.  Today, you can do either and work out what you prefer and attract the right clients accordingly.  

Embracing Flexibility

Being a portfolio CFO requires embracing a flexible working lifestyle. You must also excel in managing multiple clients, working on diverse projects, collaborating with different teams, and tackling varied financial challenges. 

The challenge can sometimes be prioritisation, especially if all your clients are fundraising at once.  Make sure you create systems so you can hit the ground running.

Leveraging Experience and Expertise:

If you're an experienced accountant and aspiring to become portfolio CFO, you can leverage your comprehensive financial knowledge and industry expertise. Ideally you'll want to broaden your skill set beyond traditional accounting roles, so you can offer value-added services such as strategic financial planning, fundraising support, and process optimisation. Continuous professional development and staying updated with industry trends are vital for Interim Finance Directors to provide value driven services.

Asides from building up your skillset, it's also worth deciding whether being a Portfolio CFO is a right fit for you.  Make sure you really want to do this kind of work by speaking to experienced Portfolio CFOs and Interim Finance Directors.

Separately, you also want to confirm your first client before resigning from your corporate job.  Good to get some security first.

Building a Network:

Establishing a strong professional network is crucial for aspiring portfolio CFOs. Networking enables you to connect with founders and startups seeking your services. Attending industry events, joining entrepreneurial communities, and leveraging online platforms can help build meaningful relationships and gain exposure to potential clients.

When I first started pre-COVID, as I had been working in startups / fast growth businesses for over 10 years I just started taking people out for coffee and letting them know that I was moving to Portfolio CFO / Part-time CFO work.  This is how I got my first 3 clients.  Your network is key.

Showcasing Value Proposition:

To attract clients, as an aspiring portfolio CFOs you articulate your unique value proposition. This involves showcasing your expertise, experience, and track record of success as part-time finance directors. Crafting a compelling personal brand and developing a robust online presence through a professional website or social media platforms can help differentiate you in the market.

Links:

  1. Get your FREE Guide: Stepping into the role of Finance Director or CFO
  2. Follow me and let me know what challenges you are having right now.
  3. Register for the mini-course, Upgrade your Management Accounts and get noticed by the business 
  4. Work with me in the new / aspiring FD course  and includes Q&A sessions where we can discuss all of your questions and how to apply your learnings to your current role. 

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