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Am I getting tired of freelance consulting or am I attracting bad clientele?

I have noticed that I have been getting more frustrated/impatient with people who not only know little to nothing about how finance and accounting impacts their business, that they also refuse to put together, or even ask about preparation of business plans and related financial projections, or if they do, they grossly underestimate the time and extent of knowledge required to put a realistic one together, to say nothing of what they're willing to pay someone to prepare one that is fairly sophisticated and highly intricate.

About 6 weeks ago, I was asked to be vice-president of a start-up publishing company. I found that the individual had natural entrepreneurial acumen, so I considered it. But when I found out that he was already taking his idea to market (recruiting clients, enlisting contractors, etc.) with no business plan, no capital, no experience in publishing, no one readily available that had solid publishing experience, and his only capital generating plan was creating a Gofundme account, I politely declined, it just came off too much as a hustle, and the original name he was using to market the business gave off strong charlatan vibes.

More recently, I was asked to put together some financial projections for a start-up business seeking funding involving at least 3 separate businesses in one single venture and had for-profit and non-profit components. It turned out they were only planning to pay several hundred dollars for the work. I offered to give occasional guidance and advice, but declined to commit to any extensive work on the project.

Am I getting weary of working with clientele who don't understand basic business principles, particularly the ones involving planning, let alone the need to understand what your numbers are, what they should be, and how they can impact your business? Don't get me wrong, I don't mind helping out business owners' financial plans and goals, but I don't like it when they subordinate their knowledge of basic business and finance knowledge on me in an attempt to absolve their responsibility to know it, knowing that if something goes awry, I can be a scapegoat of convenience, in that they can simply plead ignorance and they're home free.

Is this a sign of CFO consulting fatigue or do I simply need to work with more sophisticated clientele as it relates to basic business knowledge?


Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

My .02 cents

My reading (and I can be my apologies if I am but the points I am raising should not be lost) is that you come from a big (established?) corporation/multinational and not used to the nature of start ups??

The reality is, most startups, especially in the early stages operate like this where the pace is fast and sometimes things move without the "necessary" processes before them or most business policies and practices are still unestablished. This is more true for companies with "entrepreneurial" CEOs. But then again, you would be surprised....most (at least those that I have dealt with) CEOs know the bigger numbers even if they do NOT seem to.

Being the CFO (or Finance adviser), and having the company's lifecycle stage in mind, you are supposed to be the ADULT in the room. Most of the time, it feels like you are running after or chasing a horse trying to establish what should have been established before a particular action.. Sometimes, you will even feel like the clean-up guy. Most of the time, the ideal (what we are taught and used to) processes do not apply to startups (especially early stage) where product roll out and customer acquisition (even beta customers) are the goals (sometimes at significant risk/cost) and operating on limited funds.

MY (emphasis) standard is to have a reading of the CEO if he listens to people around him or can be "reined in" if necessary. As a business partner, open communication with the CEO from the start is the key. I have always told CEOs that I will speak my mind whatever the topic/issue and he has to decide on the merits of my points VS his priorities/goals. Sometimes, I even act as the "devil's advocate" (even if it is not my position) just to have discussions. That usually works out and there is no animosity in the relationship.

Of course, it is still your decision if the risk/rewards is worth it. If you think it is worth it, the only thing you can do is mitigate the risks resulting from the CEO's/company's action (against your better advisement). That is YOUR responsibility.

P.S. As a backgrounder, this perspective comes from my experience as a Chief of Staff to a CEO and also as a CFO. On both roles, how you manage the CEO has a lot to do with the success of the relationship and of the company/initiatives.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

On the other hand, you can be burning out.

Been there and understand it. Everything Emerson say is true, but sometimes it pays to take a break.

On the other hand, I've never had a job/client that was perfect. The people may be great, the environment fun but there is always a problem - like the business isn't performing and you either can't get the right track for the business, or the people who are great to work with, just don't get it.

So, nothing is aggravation free, even the job/client you think is a creampuff.

Life gets in the way of living...

Mark Sutherland
Title: CFO
Company: Profit By Design CFO & Controller Servic..
(CFO, Profit By Design CFO & Controller Services) |

I see this all the time, and yes it's very frustrating. I'm always looking for clients who are savvy enough to "know what they don't know, but need to know", if that makes any sense. The problem is that there are, in my experience, more people who DON'T know what they don't know, but need to know. This leaves us with a pretty small niche to work with, which has been the disappointing lesson I've learned in our profession. That said, the "right clients" are out there, they're just challenging to find. I get my best referrals from CPA's and Lenders (especially asset-based lenders). I've been fortunate to work with two or three solid clients continuously for the past several years who understand the value I bring to their organizations. They know exactly what they don't know and can't do, and they know I'm the person who does know and can do. Good luck.

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