Financial Planning Season

November 5, 2009

It’s annual operating and financial plan season, and many startup and expansion stage technology companies usually find themselves under the gun right about now.

While it might be tempting, don’t simply throw some good-looking numbers on a page to try to make your Board, management team, and investors happy. A well-thought out and organized annual financial and operational plan is crucial to any company…and especially a high-growth expansion stage organization.

A good plan ensures that resources are allocated in alignment with strategic goals, it ensures coordination between functional areas in support of strategic goals, it motivates the team to achieve these goals, it provides a means to ensure financial resources are optimized, and it provides a tool to evaluate performance. Most importantly, it’s the road map for your company for the next year! Don’t shortcut the process!

We find a lot of companies have a hard time developing the operating plan that should drive their financial plan. Since it takes a lot of thought, and it’s not always fun, many companies take the easy path of listing a few great-sounding goals on a powerpoint slide and then build a financial plan based on last year’s actuals plus some run rate. This might work when a company is growing in spite of itself, but this method really starts to fall apart quickly in a challenging economic environment.

So, where to start?

Does your CEO have some strategic goals for 2010 in mind? What are they? Are they quantifiable and realistic?

Next, think about how your company did last year. Did you miss your strategic, operational or financials goals for 2009? Why? Is there a pattern of missing the same type of goal year after year? Perhaps you need to adjust your 2010 goals based on learnings for last year.

Now, reflect on the economic, industry and competitive trends that impact your company. Have you factored these trends into your goals for 2010?

The next step is to quantify your 2010 goals. Estimate the incremental benefit of each strategic priority. Estimate the resource requirements. What’s the ROI? Are there any hidden costs?Any opportunity costs?

Now, cascade those goals down to functional goals and owners. This is a great time, by the way, to engage with your management team in building out appropriate departmental or functional goals.It’s usually not recommended for the CFO or the finance leader to try to do this in a vacuum.

With your management team, think about how you’re going to measure success for these functional goals. You may want to make them SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). You’re probably getting the idea…and you’re also very close to developing an operational plan for each functional area.

If you’ve gone through this exercise by validating your 2010 company strategies and then cascading those down to functional strategies, you already have the basic ingredients of an annual operating plan.

NOW, you’re ready to dive into the financial plan in such a way that it becomes a map for achieving your 2010 strategy…not just a rehash of last year’s expenses and revenues with some arbitrary assumptions around growth rates. You will also have engaged your CEO and management team in building a plan that aligns each function’s priorities and resources for the upcoming year with the overall strategy for the company.

Happy planning!