How to Hire a Part-time CFO

In my earlier article, Seven Reasons to Add a CFO – part-time or full – to Your Team, I discussed the reasons to add a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to your team. If you have not read that article you should do so before reading this one.

The first step in the hiring process is to define the job you want filled. What specific results should the CFO produce for you and your company? Are you concerned about running out of cash because you have taken on a big project but will not get paid until completion? You worry about having enough cash on a regular basis. You are not certain that the bookkeeping is being done in an efficient and rigorous manner? What else of a financial character concerns you? Is your CPA driving you crazy with questions or suggestions that you do not entirely understand?

Make a list. Look back at the seven reasons I gave in my earlier article and see if this don’t provoke some additions to your list of worries. When you have completed your list, these are the problems, largely, that the CFO should solve.

Do not spend too much time thinking about exactly which functional skills are required to produce these results. It is the job of candidate CFOs to demonstrate to you that they have solved problems like yours and produced the required results. You are not hiring a trainee or development project, you are hiring an experienced CFO.

A few concrete skills and experiences you should look for.

First, your CFO must know how to get their hands dirty. This means they must have active skills to build spreadsheets and extract information from financial software systems and paper documents. Second, they must know how to present this to you in a clear, actionable format. A key task for them is to get financial information about company performance into your hands in a timely fashion and in a format that leads to making decisions. Third, preferably they will have experience in your industry so that they can set the analysis within the context your business lives in. Fourth, they should have worked as part of a team so that they have the skills to present the financial “score” clearly and then engage in a dialogue with the other management team members to help drive the business forward in a coherent fashion. At the level of the CFO, finance is not an isolated function, rather, it plays an integral role in managing the ongoing business and developing new strategies.

Write a one page description of the results you require and the skills and experiences that you think will be needed. Keep this simple – bulleted lists are great. You will use this when you go to the next step.

Where to go hunting?

You should certainly alert your close business associates that you are looking for a part-time CFO.  Do a Google search. There are now plenty of providers of these services. Here is a saved Google search (opens new browser window). Put an ad on Craigslist.

I would suggest starting out with the consulting firms that specialize in this work. Interview a couple. You will learn a great deal about how they might approach your situation. This may help you sharpen what you want to achieve. Under no circumstances should you pay for an assessment or any other consulting projects as part of this interviewing. Any consultant should be more than willing to come to your office to talk things over without any further obligation. Since they are experienced, they will conduct their assessment of the situation right in front of you and with considerable accuracy in under an hour. Don’t forget consultants interview far more companies than you.

You may be overwhelmed by the number of candidates. Just pick out three or four who really seem solid. If you are comfortable on the telephone, conduct a telephone interview to sort out the persons you want to invite for a face-to-face.  This article is not the place to discuss interviewing strategies and techniques, but certainly keep in mind that you will be looking to confirm that they can deliver the results you are looking for and have the inter-personal skills to work well with you and the other members of your company. Envision this selection process just as you would for a permanent full-time employee. A CFO, even a part-time one, should be a significant asset in your business, not a simple replaceable part.

The Deal.

Experienced consultants will always present you with a proposal that describes the scope of the tasks, what they will do, and what the “deliverables”, the results, will be. This proposal will also indicate some level of effort that they expect to put into the job. Keep in mind that they do not have to be on site to be productive. The proposal will also define some compensation arrangement for the work. Some will charge on an “as consumed” basis to an hourly or daily rate. Others will propose a fixed monthly charge for the level of effort described. Everything is negotiable, so think through how you would like to work. Always make sure to include an early review period (more on this below) and a cancellation process that is mutual and no-fault. Finally, you should look for a non-disclosure statement as part of any contract to protect your confidential business information.

Getting to Work.

Set time aside immediately to introduce your new CFO to every aspect of your business. They really need to understand what the business is about, who the customers and vendors are, and a myriad of other facts. Include a discussion of your forward looking plans and strategies so the the CFO can set these objectives in view as analyzes are developed.

Be sure to check in regularly with your CFO to make sure that progress is being made on the results you need. Set an early time for a formal review session. A month to two months from the start date would be right. You want to take an early reading of how the CFO is functioning. You will almost always have to make course corrections both to objectives and work processes. However, if you see that you or the CFO have made a mistake and the relationship will not work out, do not delay. Bring the relationship to a halt right away.((1)) Find another CFO and ask the old CFO to bring the new one up to speed. You are dealing with professional consultants, not employees. They never like to loose a client, but they will certainly do their best to make the transition smooth. They need you to think well of them.

This is just the beginning of your work with your new CFO. It will be productive. Have fun.

  1. I wrote about this issue in an earlier article, “Managers – Early Intervention Is Key To Getting Your People Right” (opens in new window), that you can review if you find yourself in this situation. []