When Frances Lawrence was first brought in as Financial Director at software company FISCAL Technologies in 2019, the business was in real need of working capital to accelerate the growth curve.
Up until then, there had been no external investment and the organic growth had been steady but slow and achieved by hard graft. Profits made from any given year were immediately ploughed straight back into the business.
“There was a realisation that if you wanted to change that growth trajectory, you needed external investment in order to invest in engineering, sales and marketing and so on,” says Frances.
“There would obviously be a time delay before we’d see the benefits and there would be a working capital gap, but it was absolutely necessary.”
Frances’ beginnings at FISCAL Technologies
Right from the word go, Frances underwent what she describes as a ‘baptism of fire’ where she needed to ‘rip everything up’ and start again.
Frances developed a completely new revenue recognition policy and recalculated the annual recurring revenue for every existing customer.
This also meant restating the previous three years of financial history and really scrutinising the numbers before converting it all into a consolidated group format.
“I was buried in spreadsheets for most of my first year,” says Frances, “but it needed to happen if we were going to grow as a company.”
“When you come into a new business, it’s very difficult to stand by the numbers unless you get really involved in the details.”
“It forced me to know all of those numbers inside and out.”
“I needed to feel confident that if someone did come in to audit us, those numbers were solid and credible. I had to really believe in them.”
The results of her changes
With a solid starting position and a reliable financial history, Frances was then able to build out a three-year financial plan including the most appropriate SaaS KPIs, for example, annual recurring revenue and net revenue retention, enabling FISCAL to pitch to potential investors.
Success didn’t take long: within nine months, FISCAL received the cash injection necessary and the board of directors were joined by two external investors who now review and analyse the performance on a monthly basis.
Three years on and FISCAL are enjoying a strong growth trajectory.
There have been challenges, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic which led to the closure of FISCAL’s US sales office, but overall, the software business is going from strength to strength.
Frances’ focus on key metrics to measure and assess performance and growth play a crucial part in this even though, as she admits, certain metrics don’t necessarily fall within the scope of traditional finance.
“One of our key KPIs is annual recurring revenue (ARR) performance,” Frances explains. “We report this increase every week to the whole company.”
“We think it’s the best measure of success and performance.”
Frances, who was promoted to CFO in August 2021, particularly enjoys this aspect of her role which she says is much more commercial and strategic than her previous one.
“I really enjoy presenting financial data in a way that’s easy for someone without a financial background to understand and explaining things in laymen’s terms.”
“Numbers can be a bit dry if you’re not too careful, so it’s often about trying to be more creative with how you present them.”
Presenting data to different groups
A key part of this is understanding the audience.
“When you’re presenting to the whole company, you need to bear in mind there will be many people with no financial experience, so you adjust your tone, and how you communicate with them,” says Frances.
“I’m a very visual person, so for me it’s being able to tell the story around the numbers by visual means, whether it’s bar charts, bridges or diagrams.”
“Anything that shows people in, say, three seconds whether it’s been a good or a bad month.”
Likewise, presenting financial data at board meetings needs to be a lot more detailed and technical.
“I use a very different language when talking to our external investors or those in the finance function – I know they’ve all got a certain amount of financial knowledge so I’m always adapting my style and language depending on who I’m talking or presenting to.”
Sometimes, despite her senior management position, this might actually be the customer.
Direct relationships with customers
Recently, FISCAL implemented a new scheme whereby key senior executives across the business are assigned to strategic or important customers to help strengthen client relationships. It’s an unusual move, but one which Frances says really pays off.
“I have three such customers that I have a good relationship with. I have hosted joint webinars with them and we touch base occasionally.”
“It’s good for them to talk to someone in the company who isn’t just chasing invoices, but who wants to talk to them and hear how they’re getting on,” Frances explains.
“From our perspective, it gives us insight into what our customers like, how they’re using our product and what they’d like to see more of.”
According to Frances, this aligns very much with FISCAL’s customer-centric approach, a huge part of which is to nurture their existing customer base, applying key metrics in order to assess performance such as net and gross revenue retention, lifetime customer value and cost of customer acquisition.
“This may not be necessarily what auditors are interested in, but this is really important to us as a business and it’s how we benchmark ourselves against competitors.”
Frances’ power profile
What music inspires her?
“I don’t listen to music while I work but I am a Belieber!”
Who is her hero?
“It has to be David Attenborough. At 96, he’s still making a difference. He shares his love of animals by making educational programmes that appeal to all ages with a clear message that we need to do more to look after our precious planet.”
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