Why a Monthly Financial Checklist is an Important Tool for All CEOs
Activity for activity’s sake is pointless. Only activity that’s directed at achieving BIG outcomes truly matters.
CEOs who can’t make this distinction waste too much time chasing shiny new objects and putting out fires. They’re reacting rather than leading with planned, purposeful action that’s designed to hit targets and continually generate growth. And because wasted activity is usually expensive, these CEOs are also far too quick to abandon annual plans or shrink ambitious targets the first time a KPI dips or a marketing initiative doesn’t catch fire.
A monthly financial review can help to keep your plans and your available resources in sync, while also shining a spotlight on any activities or subpar employees who could be dragging you into the red. As the adage goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, which is why it’s essential to create a financial statement review checklist that allows you to make informed financial decisions based on data. Here’s how to get started.
What is a monthly financial review checklist?
Preparing for your financial review is essential as a CEO or executive on the senior leadership team. By preparing your finances, you can get a better understanding of your organization’s budget, any discrepancies, and provide a clear financial picture. A financial statement review checklist is a document that includes all of the important financial information you need to gather to paint that financial picture.
With this information consolidated in one area, you’ll be able to make important financial decisions that will directly impact your business’s growth. When creating your monthly financial review checklist, make sure to include the following line items:
- Cash flow statement:Your cash flow statement tracks the cash going in and out of your business. With a clear understanding of the money going in and out of your business, you’ll know how much cash you have on hand, which can be used to pay debts, expenses, and vendors. Analyzing a cash flow statement also allows you to make informed financial decisions, such as identifying areas to cut costs or generate cash.
- Balance sheet:A balance sheet takes a snapshot of your company’s financial standing in a moment of time. Your balance sheet will list assets, liabilities, and shareholder equity, which allow shareholders to assess your organization’s capital structure. By showing what you own and owe, a balance sheet helps you calculate financial ratios that are essential for making financial decisions.
- Income statement:Your company’s income statement contains your bottom line, which tells you your net income after all expenses have been subtracted from revenues. With your income statement on your business review checklist, you can ensure costs aren’t taking away from your bottom line and putting you in a mound of debt your company can’t pay off.
- Sales:An analysis of your sales is another crucial component of your financial statement review checklist. By examining your sources of revenue, such as top-selling products and your customer base, along with your pricing and how it compares to others in your industry, you can make any necessary changes to boost sales and profit.
Now that you know the key components to your monthly checklist, let’s dive into why they’re vital for you as the CEO.
Why are financial business reviews vital for CEOs?
As the leader of your organization, it’s your responsibility to ensure your company is maintaining healthy profit margins. With a financial business review in place, you can make important decisions that can either help your company sail or sink. Below are some of the top reasons why financial business reviews are vital for any CEO:
- Track progress:How is your company performing month after month, year after year? Your financial statements allow you to track progress for various timeframes, so you can make executive decisions that propel your business forward.
- Make corrections:Your financial statements can uncover pitfalls in your business, such as excessive operating expenses or massive debt. If you identify any areas of concern, you can make timely corrections to get your business back on track.
- Drive growth:CEOs hold many hats—managing company operations, pitching to investors, communicating with your board. All of these responsibilities involve company finances, which is why financial business reviews are vital. They can help you make decisions that drive growth and appeal to investors, please the board, and streamline operations.
There are many reasons why you should take your financial statement review checklist seriously. They dictate how you will make your decisions to ensure profitability and success. Let’s explore the importance of monitoring cash as a CEO in the next section.
Monitoring cash is a CEO-level responsibility.
To properly execute that responsibility, you need to have a complete view of your company’s financial situation every single month. If you’re a startup or a smaller company without a dedicated accountant, go get one. No matter how cash-strapped you might think you are, a reliable bookkeeper is a necessary investment.
Consider starting with a fractional accounting and/or CFO firm that can properly close your books each month and generate department-level monthly budgets. This information is critical to managing a high-growth business. Without it, you are flying blind.
CEOs of larger companies with dedicated financial teams need to make a monthly financial review a high priority and a regular part of their meeting rhythm. Get together with your CFO and the leaders of your finance department. Refer back to your annual plan and the KPIs you all agreed were going to lead the company to its BIG annual targets.
If a monthly financial review is new to you, a good place to start is with a monthly comparison of actuals to budget and a full set of financial statements (Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss, and Cash Flow). If cash is tight, it’s especially important that the data your team collects will help you understand your cash runway.
We also encourage our entrepreneur coaching clients to look at the following financial indicators on a rolling 12-month graph to spot trends and take corrective action:
- Gross Margin
- Cost of Acquiring a Customer
- Operating Expenses by Department
- Net Margin
Efficiency metrics unique to your business (e.g., utilization rates, revenue per employee, conversion rate, average revenue per client, churn, capacity utilization, asset turn over, etc.) Set clear expectations with your team about the data you want to see at the end of every month.
And finally, get that meeting on your calendar.
What goes into a monthly review meeting?
Your monthly review checklist contains all of your company’s important financial statements, such as the income statement, statement of cash flows, and balance sheet. These documents allow you to make important decisions that drive growth and ensure your company’s success. Once you have your monthly review checklist created, it’s time to set up a monthly review meeting to ensure each line item is addressed. Let’s explore what goes into an effective monthly review meeting below:
Gather the data you need
Far too many underperforming companies think that a financial review is just something that the accounting department does every spring before Tax Day. Even if the CEO and CFO are checking the company’s financial situation every day, checking over your numbers isn’t the same as opening up your books and digging into the overall health of the business. Start by gathering all the data you need to make informed decisions, such as expenses, sales, and debt. Then, in your monthly review meeting, you’ll have data you can pull from to make informed decisions.
Assess long-term goals
Your financial statements allow you to look at all of the financial accomplishments and setbacks your organization experienced over a specific time period. With this information on hand, you can readjust your long-term goals with your team, whether it’s ramping up production if your sales are booming, or scaling back operations if you need time to restructure a project.
As you look over your financial statement review checklist, you’ll be able to reflect on your business’s performance. From there, you’ll be able to start planning for the future, whether that’s creating new projects or delegating tasks to check off a priority task or improve your personal life. In your meeting, you can have a round table discussion where each member can help with the planning phase and take on roles they believe they can succeed in.
Your monthly review meeting should also be a period of reflection that allows you to make both personal and professional assessments. Is your routine working? How’s your work-life balance? What hard decisions do you have to make to achieve your goals? Asking yourself these hard questions gives you and your team the opportunity to track progress and make amendments to your personal and professional life to achieve success.
Ask the right questions
There are many ways to be an effective CEO. Having an MBA and living and breathing numbers aren’t necessarily job requirements. But if you don’t understand the key trends that are helping or hurting the company’s performance, a bold vision and an empathetic touch with people aren’t going to keep you from going broke.
Again, Cash is a CEO-level responsibility. So is Learning.
If corporate finance isn’t your first language, our Monthly Financial Review Checklist can help you gain some basic fluency. It also provides a four-part structure that will help you and your team get more comfortable with this review process. Whether you’re wondering how to increase profits or reduce operating expenses to increase revenue, there are certain questions to ask yourself as you review your financial statements. Some sample questions you need to address every month include:
1. Big picture overview
- What is the long-term strategy of the company and what are we doing to get there?
- What is the best allocation of resources to grow revenues? Is now the right time to hire a….?
- How do my daily decisions fit into my near-term, mid-term and long-term plans? Make sure you consult all three plans whenever you are making a “lane change” in your business.
- Is our budget healthy? If not, what drivers are pushing us over budget? Is there a surplus in one area we could deploy to improve an underperforming area?
2. Balance sheet
- Are there potential cash shortfalls for the next 12-months that need to be addressed?
- Can you influence your Days Sales Outstanding to reduce your cash conversion period?
- Are there any revenue streams that have not been captured and are potential unrecorded receivables?
- How can we reduce our Days Payable Outstanding?
3. Income statement
- What steps can be taken to improve profitability?
- What KPIs are key to your success and should be monitored regularly to identify changes and issues.
4. Cash flow statement
- Are there any actions you can take to enhance your cash from operating activities?
- How are you managing your non-operating cash flows?
- What are the appropriate solutions to address cash issues?
Monthly financial review in action.
CEO Coaching International Partner Tracy Tolbert spent a large part of his career in management at ACS, a publicly-traded Fortune 400 company later acquired by Xerox. “The senior business leaders at ACS managed the company through monthly financial reporting,” Tracy says. “As a multibillion-dollar company, we had to stay very close to the numbers to continue to grow. The Monthly Financial Performance Review was integral to our success.”
Because ACS had several large divisions, anyone in the company who owned a Profit and Loss Statement participated in the meeting, along with the CEO, COO, CFO, and Head of Sales. In the review, they would compare the last month’s financials not only against their original plan, but also against the same period in the previous year.
This level of analysis may not be necessary in your company. As you implement a Monthly Financial Performance Review, set its content to cover the most important metrics in your business and adjust the format to fit your business’ needs.
No matter what, do not skip this rhythm. Because he was so diligent about reviewing finances, Tracy was able to take the next step and implement a managed growth strategy that kept his company on a path to increased profitability without straining its resources.
Download the CEO Coaching International monthly financial review checklist
When you make a monthly financial review a part of your best practices, you’re giving yourself an opportunity at the start of every month to challenge the assumptions behind your current strategy, analyze trends, and adjust as necessary.
Download our monthly financial review checklist below to restructure how you look at data and make decisions. Every month, take this checklist out to track your progress and make any changes to your financial plan.
If you found our free monthly financial review checklist helpful, consider our executive coaching services. At CEO Coaching International, our highly-trained, battle-tested CEO coaches have the experience, knowledge, and resources to help you reach your personal and professional goals. Through one-on-one or executive team coaching, you’ll learn the skills needed to make BIG happen.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make BIG Happen. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.