2020 was an extremely unusual year, and 2021 certainly isn’t looking any better. And, this is particularly the case for small and middle-market business owners.
What is on the horizon?
- More civil and political unrest?
- Even higher insurance costs?
- A more aggressive DOL and EPA?
- A pandemic that persists longer than expected?
- A new and different pandemic?
- Higher energy costs?
- Rolling black-outs?
- International tensions?
- $15 minimum wage?
- Higher healthcare costs?
- Higher taxes?
It’s difficult to say… but it certainly makes sense to plan for the unexpected and evaluate financial strategies. I had the opportunity to interview a contract CFO, Jeff Zeunik. Jeff is a graduate of my favorite Military Academy in the Hudson River Valley in New York. He is also a partner with B2B CFO®.
Randy: As I mentioned in my introduction, you’re a partner with B2B CFO®, why don’t you start by telling me what B2B CFO® is, and why you joined the firm?
Jeff: Sure. B2B CFO® is a management advisory firm focused on helping private business owners increase cash and free-time, while decreasing stress. We’ve been around since 1987, and with nearly 200 partners across the country we’re one of the largest firms of our type in the United States. Since each of our partners brings at least 25 years’ experience to the Firm, we like to say there are very few questions we can’t answer.
I joined the firm because I believe in what we do, and I want to use my experiences and skillset to help others. Private business owners and entrepreneurs are key components to the US economy, and we all do better when they succeed. However, running a business is anything but easy, and it can be difficult for owners to find a trusted business advisor. That’s where B2B CFO® comes in; we remove some of the burdens the owner is feeling so that he or she can focus on the really important tasks – growing their business and enjoying their life.
Randy: And how do you go about doing that?
Jeff: We tailor what we do to each owner’s unique situation, but our focus always comes back to cash and time. Depending on the client’s needs, our approach can range from the tactical, such as assisting with bank loans and improving existing cash flows, to the strategic such as helping identify untapped markets, improving supply chain, or identifying acquisition targets. We are also experts at long-range planning and increasing company value in advance of a sale or exit.
We help with the time aspect of the owner’s life by putting the people, processes, and systems in place to enable to the owner to back away from the day-to-day so that they can focus on the strategic.
Randy: Can Captive Insurance play a role in what you do?
Jeff: Of course! I’ll reiterate that one of our core focuses is to help business owners increase cash, and that is exactly what a captive does. Captives not only provide the business owner more money, they also provide the business owner a greater breadth of coverage at a better price, all while providing favorable tax treatment. I would strongly recommend that any business owner with the means explore the possibility of putting a captive insurance company in place.
Randy: That’s great to hear. How is B2B CFO® different from similar fractional CFO firms out there?
Jeff: That’s a great question. There are some great Fractional CFO firms out there, but we don’t actually use that term when referring to ourselves. The list is lengthy, but I can give you a few reasons as to why we believe we are different and don’t use that term…
First, every member of our firm is an equity-holding partner, and our clients work with their partner from “end-to-end.” By “end-to-end” I mean that I work directly with my clients all the time, I never pass them off to a more junior staff member. And as I mentioned earlier, all of our partners have at least 25 years’ experience.
Second, we have three published books, a proprietary software, Certified Business Transition Expert training, and a robust back-office that all ensure a high quality of support for your clients. The power of our shared knowledge can’t be emphasized enough – through our Forum and regional meetings we’re able to leverage the nearly 6,000 years of combined experience of our partners, and we like to say there are very few questions we can’t answer as a result.
Finally, we pride ourselves on being able to introduce our clients to a wide array of other professionals to assist them with their long-term goals. Whether they need assistance with bookkeeping, HR, or legal matters, or any other professional service, we likely will know a great individual or firm to recommend to them. For instance, once a business owner has realized the value of putting a captive insurance company in place, I would put him in touch with you and CIC Services to explore how to make it happen.
Randy: You’ve mentioned the experience of your partners a couple of times, what’s your background?
Jeff: I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an MBA in Finance and Strategy from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and a Master of Engineering Management from Northwestern as well. Obviously not all partners went to the same schools or held the same jobs, but they are similar in their breadth and depth of experiences.
Randy: Which businesses can you provide the most value to?
Jeff: I’m always happy to talk to any business owner whether they become a client or not, and a lot of the value we provide is through connecting people to others in our robust networks.
We typically provide the most value to companies with revenues ranging from about $4 million up to about $50 million. Once companies get above $50 million, they likely have a fairly robust finance function in place already and may not need me. However, as I said, I’m always happy to talk to any owner and see if I can provide value.
If an owner is looking to exit or sell his or her business, a B2B CFO® partner can help even if their revenues are several hundred million. Exits are extremely complex and time-consuming, and bringing in a B2B CFO®partner allows the owner to navigate that process while being confident their existing finance team continues supporting the business without distraction. Almost all of our partners, including myself, are Certified Business Transition Experts, and we understand the exit process.
I’ll also mention here that Jerry Mills, our firm’s Founder and Managing Partner, has published The Exit Strategy Handbook, which is great resource for owners contemplating an exit, and that we even proprietary software to help with the exit process once the owner is ready.
Randy: How does an engagement with a business owner work?
Jeff: It all begins with me interviewing the business owner, which typically takes about an hour. During this process I want to determine if the owner really knows where he or she is (vs. the competition) financially and operationally, if the owner has solid goals for where they want their business to go, and whether they have a clear path to achieve their desired “end state.” We also use this process to help identify and begin to determine how to remove the barriers to achieving their goals. After speaking with the owner we’ll typically speak with a few key staff members, and we’ll obviously want to look at their financials as well.
Once I’m done gathering information, I’ll complete my Discovery Gap Analysis, and then pull together a complimentary and confidential Discovery Analysis. The Discovery Analysis will include an industry benchmark analysis and a Strategy Game plan that lays out the path and timeline I believe will lead to success.
Randy: What if my business is doing fine today?
Jeff: Congratulations – that’s obviously the goal! Maybe you don’t need my help. However, I’d like to ask a few questions:
- Is the business as profitable as you really want it to be?
- Have you been able to get the bank loans you need?
- Are you satisfied with the business information / tools at your disposal today?
- Have you thought about what the exit of your business will look like – How much do you need from it, who will be the buyer be, and when will you start to prepare? Are you familiar with the process involved?
- When’s the last time you updated (or developed) a long-range strategic plan?
- Are there any concerns rattling around the back of your mind?
Randy: Your approach sounds thorough, and I can see why it makes sense for businesses that are thriving as well as businesses that might not be reaching full potential. Do the business owners have to commit to a long-term contract?
Jeff: We do have a contract, but that is because the contract is required to make our E&O insurance valid. If clients aren’t happy with our services, they can end the agreement at any time. However, we work hard to help our clients succeed, and as a result our average tenure with clients is about 5.5 years.
Randy: Do you help with discrete projects as well?
Jeff: Of course. We’re happy to help owners with whatever they need.
Randy: Where is your headquarters?
Jeff: I live in Tampa, but I’m happy to work with clients around the country if they’re open to my being virtual. I think we’ve all learned during 2020 that remote work can still be highly effective. Alternatively, if an owner really wants someone local, they can contact me, and I will introduce them to a B2B CFO® partner in their area.
Randy: How can owners find out more?
Randy: Very good. Thank you very much for taking the time to connect with me today.
Jeff: The pleasure’s all mine.
Randy: Go Army!
Jeff: Beat Navy!