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Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 11 years ago

Beyond bean-counting

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Not every small business needs a full-time chief financial officer. For those that could use just a little direction, there's Brooke Evans.
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Who's the most daring accountant you know?

Meet Brooke Evans, a candidate for the answer. A self-described “entrepreneurial bean counter,” Evans came out from behind the ledger two years ago to operate her own company.

Small business owners know: that first step toward starting a company involves significant risk. Evans saw that risk, but went for it anyway.

“I really liked the idea of building something,” she says.

Today, the business she has built is called CFO Alliance. She's a chief financial officer for hire based in Tampa, working with small businesses with revenues between $1 million and $20 million to improve the way they collect, interpret and use their financial data.

How she enacts those improvements depends largely on the specific company she's working with. For that reason, it's easier for Evans to describe her typical client, as opposed to her typical day.

“My clients are really smart,” Evans explains, and “numbers-focused,” willing to listen to outsiders for advice.

In fact, it's more than listening — Evans' clients must be prepared to act on her advice for their relationship to benefit. It's an important difference that she has noticed after working with such diverse clients: listening to advice and being willing to act on it are completely different things.

So what does she say to those smart, numerically inclined business owners when it's clear they'll take her advice seriously? She talks to them from a different point of view. “I see different things,” says Evans. In fact, much of her ability to help her clients comes from the outside perspective she provides.

For example, knowing how successful companies balance revenues with staffing, Evans can help small business owners with personnel decisions. Indeed, many small businesses struggle with the question of when to add and subtract employees. Establishing a connection between revenues and employees can help address that issue.

Another example: compensation structuring. How, and for what, should employees be paid? Evans says that depends on what those employees do. Those that divide their time between multiple projects each day may benefit from using billable hours to track their work, for instance.

On occasion, Evans advises larger groups of business leaders, having done some public speaking recently. She's even got a favorite business analogy.

A company, she explains, is constructed like a building. Every building has a foundation; for the business, that foundation is represented by sales.

The walls, doors, and framing of the building — the “guts” of the structure, she calls them — represent a company's employees. They define the building's function, and how one gets through it.

Plumbing serves as representative of a business' data. When you turn on a faucet and look at the result, you hope to see clear water. If the water looks dirty, you have a problem. In the same way, reviewing a company's financial data can show how well the system is running.

The last piece of Evans' building analogy is electricity, which represents cash flow. For the building to work, it's got to be receiving power. Furthermore, similar to how electrical outlets are spread evenly throughout a structure, effective distribution of income makes a business work better.

Devices like those, which demonstrate the importance of financial coordination within a company, help Evans connect with clients. It's a method she prefers to just spouting off definitions and facts.

In fact, she's adamant about how she talks to her clients. Says Evans: “We don't speak geek.”

That approach mirrors the way the young entrepreneur conducts her business. “There's a gut piece,” she states; a dash of intuition to go with her analyses.

Gutsy, entrepreneurial, daring — not your typical accountant. But at least in Evans' case, it's a formula that works when you consider that her clients revenue range is form $500,000 to nearly $100 million.

— Alex Walsh

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