Small Business Mentoring with Claire Stewart

Do you have an accounting strategy? ProfileTree had an opportunity to learn more about this business essential from specialist Claire Stewart AND hear her advice on how small business mentoring can deliver great results.

Every business dreams of soaring towards success, but the path to prosperity requires navigation with intuition and a sharp financial compass. This compass takes the form of your accounting strategy, the dynamic interplay between financial data, strategic foresight, and tactical execution that drives your business towards its goals.

An accounting strategy isn’t merely about crunching numbers. It’s about harnessing the power of financial information to fuel informed decision-making, optimize resource allocation, and empower proactive performance. It’s the bridge between where you are and where you want to be, guiding you through volatile markets, capitalizing on emerging opportunities, and weathering unexpected storms.

But just like a compass, your accounting strategy needs clear calibration to your specific business landscape.

Before charting your course, take a moment to evaluate your business objectives and needs:

Digitalisation of a Tradition Business with Claire Stewart
  • Growth Visions: Do you aim for organic expansion, strategic acquisitions, or venturing into new markets? Your accounting strategy needs to adapt to accommodate your growth ambitions.
  • Capital Compass: Will you bootstrap, seek investors, or explore debt financing? Understanding your capital needs determines how your financial resources are managed and deployed.
  • Tax Terrain: Every step across the financial landscape has tax implications. A proactive understanding of tax regulations and potential incentives ensures you navigate the terrain efficiently.

In our Business Leaders video interview, Claire Stewart also discusses how a knowledge of these areas can help businesses to move from a traditional to digital-based approach.

Accounting Strategy and Your Business

“I was 14 when my journey began and I had that career class in which the teacher used to ask what everyone wants to do when they leave school. I always had the desire to be an accountant, and I don’t even know why.

“One day, the teacher gave me a video and told me to watch it at home during the weekend. So I was staying at my friend’s for the night and decided to open it up and realised that it was about a typical accountant; in his 50’s, kind of a drone voice…at this point my friend told me that you can’t be an accountant and do this job.”

Claire’s answer to her friend? She was going to “reinvent accountancy”.

“I didn’t want to push myself into the corner and so didn’t study accounting but studied business and computing. Somehow I managed to land myself a trainee accountancy post in Lisburn in a medium-sized firm. I did my training and as soon as I finished, I knew that I wanted to get out into the real world, to get into the real industry and work for a proper company.”

After working for a couple of companies, Claire’s interests moved towards working for herself.

It all started in October 2013 under the name of ‘CS Accounting Services’ and a client-list of almost 40 or 50 clients in the first year.

Then Claire went into a partnership with a friend, Gilbert Cartmill, with each concentrating on their own specialisms, Claire doing the business marketing and business development while Gilbert oversees IT and software.

This rings very true to the advice Claire often shares with clients: “What you know and what you are good at is only 10 percent of the puzzle, because you end up being everything in the business”.

Cartmill Stewart provides a full range of accountancy-related services such as annual accounts, corporation tax returns, personal tax returns, payroll and more.

However, in the past year the company has worked on the strategy side of the business and started introducing these newer services to existing clients in order to increase the value offered by the company.

“We actually do a lot of quarterly strategy sessions and I do a lot of mentoring within the business and software training.”

“We are at the head of the game, but this is not all of it. There are always changes, there is going to be further developments and we should be at the head of that”

“I have done a lot of marketing since it was part of my studies and now I realise how content marketing and social marketing are both important.

“Dealing with social media in general is important especially when you are focusing on the everyday life of businesses in general, because eventually that’s the kind of advice and information people want to read about when they are on social media,” she said.

To find out more see Claire’s full ProfileTree video interview.

We’ve conducted interviews with a huge range of business leaders who talked with us about their businesses, about their starting point in their careers, their success stories and much more.

For example, our interview with Shane O’Connor covers property buying and his route to business success.

Meanwhile, another interview with Drew Beckett – owner of BeckettHanlon Worldwide Property – gives a chance to learn more about franchise businesses.

Cartmill Stewart & Co –

Defining your audience - Accounting Strategy

Accounting Software and Tools Analysis: Your Digital Financial Arsenal

In today’s data-driven landscape, accounting software and tools are no longer optional luxuries – they’re essential weapons in your financial arsenal. Choosing the right tools, however, can be a daunting task, with a dizzying array of options in the market.

Cloud vs. On-Premise:

The first critical decision lies in your deployment preference: cloud-based solutions offering effortless scalability and accessibility versus on-premise software that provides granular control and data security.

  • Cloud:
    • Pros: Accessibility from anywhere, automatic updates, minimal IT burden, lower upfront costs.
    • Cons: Reliant on internet connectivity, potential security vulnerabilities, subscription fees.
  • On-Premise:
    • Pros: Higher data security, customization options, no ongoing subscription fees.
    • Cons: High upfront costs, IT infrastructure and maintenance needs, limited accessibility.

Budgeting Automation:

Modern accounting software goes beyond mere data entry. Look for tools that automate budget creation and monitoring, freeing up your time for strategic analysis. Features like rolling forecasts, variance analysis, and automated alerts can prevent budget overruns and keep your finances on track.

Data Integration and Security:

Seamless data integration with other business systems like CRM or inventory management is crucial for comprehensive financial insight. Ensure your chosen software offers secure data storage and access controls, safeguarding your sensitive financial information.

Cash Flow Planning and Forecasting:

Predicting your cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. Choose software that empowers you to create accurate projections for profitability and costs. Consider tools that enable scenario modeling for both best-case and worst-case situations, allowing you to proactively adapt to changing market conditions.

Beyond the Basics:

Your accounting software needs should evolve with your business. Look for tools that offer additional features like:

  • Project management: Track project financials and profitability.
  • Payroll integration: Streamline payroll processing and tax compliance.
  • Inventory management: Optimize inventory levels and minimize carrying costs.
  • Mobile access: Manage your finances on the go.

Establishing Accountability:

  • Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities: Assign specific accounting tasks and responsibilities to individuals or teams, fostering ownership and accountability.
  • Implement Segregation of Duties: Separate financial control functions to prevent errors and fraud. For example, different individuals should handle cash receipts, disbursements, and reconciliations.
  • Conduct Regular Reviews and Audits: Regularly review financial reports and conduct internal audits to identify discrepancies, ensure compliance, and maintain control over financial processes.

Building Effective Reporting Frameworks:

  • Operational Reports: Your Daily Breadcrumbs: Generate operational reports that provide detailed insights into specific functions like sales, expenses, inventory, and cash flow. These reports help you track day-to-day operations and identify potential issues early on.
  • Management Reports: The Big Picture: Create management reports that summarize key KPIs, trends, and financial performance indicators for strategic decision-making. These reports provide a holistic view of the business’s financial health.
  • Dashboards: Visualizing Your Financial Story: Utilize dashboards to present financial data in an engaging and visual format, making it easier to grasp trends and patterns. Dashboards can highlight key metrics, track progress towards goals, and provide real-time insights.

Remember, effective accounting controls and reporting frameworks are not static. They should evolve along with your business, adapting to changing needs and market conditions. Regularly review and update your KPIs, policies, and reporting systems to ensure they remain aligned with your strategic goals.

Streamlining the Financial Close: Crossing the Finish Line with Efficiency

The financial close process is often likened to a marathon—a test of endurance, accuracy, and teamwork. But with strategic planning and effective tools, you can transform this race against time into a smooth and efficient sprint towards financial clarity.

Checklist for Reconciliations: Your Financial GPS:

  • Mapping the Path: Create a comprehensive checklist of all reconciliations required for a successful close, including:
    • Bank statements
    • Accounts receivable and payable
    • Inventory
    • Payroll
    • Fixed assets
  • Assigning Tasks and Deadlines: Delegate reconciliation tasks to specific individuals and set clear deadlines to ensure accountability and timely completion.
  • Tracking Progress: Use a visual tracker or project management tool to monitor the status of reconciliations and identify potential bottlenecks.

Timelines Calendar: Setting the Pace:

  • Breaking Down the Race: Divide the financial close process into smaller, manageable stages with specific deadlines for each step.
  • Communicating the Countdown: Share the close calendar with all stakeholders, including accounting staff, management, and external auditors, to align expectations and coordinate efforts.
  • Building in Buffers: Incorporate buffer time for unexpected delays or re-work, ensuring a stress-free finish line.

Audit Preparation: Ready for the Spotlight:

  • Maintaining an Audit-Ready Mindset: Implement accounting practices that promote accuracy and transparency throughout the year, minimizing surprises during audits.
  • Organizing Supporting Documentation: Ensure easy access to complete and organized documentation that supports financial statements, including contracts, invoices, and bank records.
  • Fostering Communication and Transparency: Establish open communication with auditors, proactively addressing questions and concerns to facilitate a smooth audit process.

Training and Access Protocols: Protecting Your Financial Data

  • Information Security Policies: Implement robust information security policies to safeguard sensitive financial data from unauthorized access or breaches.
  • Accounting System User Permissions: Grant access to accounting systems based on roles and responsibilities, ensuring proper control over sensitive data.
  • Staff Cross-Training: Encourage staff cross-training to create a backup workforce and minimize disruptions caused by absences or turnover.

Budgeting for the Accounting Function: Investing in Financial Fitness

  • Staffing Considerations: Evaluate the costs and benefits of in-house versus outsourced accounting services, considering factors like expertise, cost-effectiveness, and scalability.
  • Beyond Salaries: Account for other fixed and variable costs associated with the accounting function, including:
    • Accounting software and technology
    • Professional development and training
    • Audit fees
    • Regulatory compliance costs

Accounting Strategy FAQs

Q: What are the benefits of having a strong accounting strategy?

A: A robust accounting strategy provides numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved financial health and stability: By monitoring key metrics and optimizing resource allocation, you can avoid financial pitfalls and improve profitability.
  • Informed decision-making: Data-driven insights from your accounting strategy empower you to make confident choices about investments, growth plans, and resource allocation.
  • Increased operational efficiency: Streamlined processes and clear accountability lead to fewer errors and more efficient day-to-day operations.
  • Enhanced investor and creditor confidence: A well-defined accounting strategy demonstrates financial responsibility and transparency, attracting potential investors and fostering trust with creditors.
  • Reduced risk of fraud and errors: Implementing proper controls and monitoring procedures minimizes the risk of financial mismanagement and fraudulent activities.

Q: What are some common tools and resources available for building an accounting strategy?

A: A variety of tools and resources can assist you in building your accounting strategy, including:

  • Accounting software: Choose software that offers budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and data analysis capabilities tailored to your business needs.
  • Financial dashboards: Visualize key performance indicators (KPIs) and track progress towards goals.
  • Industry benchmarks: Compare your financial performance to industry averages to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Financial modeling tools: Project future scenarios and assess potential risks and rewards of different growth strategies.
  • Professional advisors: Consult with accountants, financial analysts, or business consultants for expert guidance and customized strategies.

Q: How can I ensure my accounting processes are secure and compliant?

A: Implementing these measures can enhance the security and compliance of your accounting processes:

  • Establish rigorous information security policies: Define protocols for data access, password management, and data encryption.
  • Regularly update accounting software and technology: Install security patches and keep your systems up-to-date to minimize vulnerabilities.
  • Conduct internal audits and reviews: Proactively identify and address any potential errors or control weaknesses.
  • Train your staff on security and compliance procedures: Educate your team on best practices for handling sensitive financial data.
  • Seek guidance from professional advisors: Consult with legal and accounting professionals to ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

Accounting Strategy Conclusion

Crafting a winning accounting strategy is not just about crunching numbers; it’s about harnessing the power of financial data to fuel your business towards sustainable growth. By understanding your business objectives, choosing the right tools, and implementing secure and efficient processes, you can transform your financial data into a roadmap for success.

Remember, your accounting strategy is a living document; it should evolve with your business and adapt to changing market conditions. Embrace continuous improvement, leverage technology, and prioritize data-driven insights to navigate the financial landscape with confidence and steer your business towards a prosperous future.

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