4 min read

The Outsourced Controller's Mindset

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Most professional bookkeepers will know how to make a budget or forecast, and manage their own bookkeeping process, so it’s usually a mindset shift that is the real hurdle to becoming a controller.

"An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion"

We’ve all read those words in a high school science textbook at some point (don’t worry, we’ll stop here before we pull up any potentially embarrassing teenage memories). 

So what does this have to do with accounting and controllership? Before you jump into controllership it’s good to differentiate between static, reactive and proactive deliverables. 

The real problem is that professionals in accounting are continually trained to look at past data, and provide hard, quantifiable deliverables to our clients. To become a future focused manager though, you need to understand what is “truly valuable” to your client. Something much more intangible.

 

When it comes to what is “truly valuable” we often see 2 mindset issues with professionals

The first mindset issue is that we professionals focus too much on static deliverables

Q: What’s a static deliverable?

A: A process or service offering that is being carried out to simply satisfy a client request.

Because that’s super vague, how about an example:

Based on a client request, you create a simplified cash flow forecast from the last twelve months of accounting data and provide this as a spreadsheet to the client for feedback or review.

This process is straightforward to carry out and satisfies a client's need in a general sense - job “done”. 

This is what we like to call the “static deliverable trap”.

The real question we need to be asking ourselves is:

"What did the client want from the cash flow forecast?"

The job is “done”, but if we haven’t addressed the core problem, we haven’t actually delivered anything of value. So even though we have carried out the service, the job isn’t actually done from the clients’ perspective - which is why it’s a “trap”. 

So how do we avoid this trap? First, take a step back and appreciate what your client is facing every day. What is going on in their business and what is changing? What would be useful information for them?

Secondly, you need to remember to spend our time on what matters. You can spend a lot of time modeling out information, or you can spend more time collaborating with your clients figuring out their needs. The latter is much more valuable to your client, and extremely important for you in helping run their business better.

To progress into a controller role you need to be providing the opposite of static deliverables. You need to be operating in a dynamic, collaborative, iterative process. 

Here, it’s useful to remember the typical decision making process. 

There’s usually six steps:

  1. A problem is identified
  2. Information is gathered
  3. Potential solutions are brought forward 
  4. Alternatives are compared
  5. A choice is made
  6. Action is taken

If you and your client can quickly and efficiently do these six steps within the functions you are managing, you are providing dynamic service, and you will be light years ahead of your peers.

The second mindset issue we see professionals run into is a focus on reactive deliverables.

At first glance ‘reactive’ sounds good because, well, reactive is dynamic, right?

However, we could be effectively collaborating and interacting with our clients, providing a dynamic deliverable, but still a very reactive one. One that still requires too much client input to complete.

Bill payment services are a great example here, where you and your team handle your client’s accounts payables, all the way to actual payment processing.

This process could be fully interactive and collaborative. But, if you are still asking questions like, “when would you like to pay this bill?” you are offering that dynamic process in a reactive state. Putting it another way, you can’t fully “own and manage” the accounting function of your client because you still need too much of their input in the decision making process in some way, shape or form.

To eliminate reactive deliverables you need solid systems and processes in place, as well as an in depth understanding of your client’s business.

In our bill payment example, you need to advance your knowledge of the client to a point where you are providing suggestions to them:

  • Which vendors are a priority?
  • What are each vendor’s terms?
  • Who is the squeaky wheel?

The more information you have, the more decisions you can make, the less your client has to think about and assist with, the less reactive, and more dynamic your service offering is.

If you're interested in learning more check out our guide on how bookkeepers can transition from traditional services to outsourced controllership. 

Have questions? Connect with us on LinkedIn and reach out! And be sure to check out our educational program: Cash Flow Advisory LITE, a step-by-step training for learning short-term cash flow forecasting and building the foundations of your Cash Flow Advisory offering.