Confessions of Part-Time, Portfolio FDs

Confessions of Part-Time, Portfolio FDs

Leaving lucrative and secure C-suite positions mid-career to build a part-time portfolio might seem crazy but many of those who’ve done it say it is one of the sanest decisions they’ve made.

Take Michael Citroen, who at 58 years old is a 14-year veteran of the part-time portfolio job world. The former Group Finance Director (FD) relishes the challenge and excitement of working with half a dozen SMEs in his role as a part-time FD. “It’s nice going into different businesses and meeting different people and having different challenges to deal with. There’s so much more variety every day.”

He particularly likes that the businesses he deals with are all at different stages of growth. Some are very new, others are more established, and a couple has been guided through a sale with his help.

Citroen had been working full-time as the Group FD of a large privately-owned company when he made the decision to go freelance.

“It was getting very political,” he recalls of his former company. “And I also wanted to be in control of my own diary,” he says.

So, in 2003, he resigned and joined FD UK, a company that offered part-time FDs to SMEs. When that company was bought out by the FD Centre five years later, Citroen stayed on and is still working with them today—part of an expanding international network of part-time portfolio FDs.

“That’s another great aspect of working within a network of part-time FDs: there’s a massive backup. If there’s anything you need to know, you just ask the network, and you’ll get answers back really fast. I wouldn’t have that if I was working alone.”

Besides the enjoyment of working flexibly with entrepreneurs and with other part-time FDs, Citroen says he values the security that being a part-time FD with half a dozen clients brings.

“You don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” he says, explaining that if one client leaves he knows he can attract and retain another, so his income isn’t at risk.

“The FD Centre is very focused on helping its part-time FDs to win new clients,” Citroen says. “I could never have done as well as I have if I’d had to do it on my own. I had no idea about marketing and the technical aspect of things like websites when I first began.”

Like many people starting out on the part-time path, Citroen had been worried about giving up a salary with perks initially. “To begin with it was a little insecure, giving up a regular job.”

He quickly discovered that the financial return you get is contingent on the amount of energy you’re willing to expend.

He realised early on the new lifestyle would enable him to spend more time with family whilst maintaining a good level of income.

“It gave me time to be with them without having to answer to anybody.”

It’s something that another part-time FD Neil Methold has appreciated about this way of working. Being a part-time FD for the past six years has meant he’s been able to play a large role in his teenage son’s life: getting him settled into senior school and being able to attend almost every one of his sporting events.

“If I’d been working full-time I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And that’s priceless,” says 53-year-old Methold.

Like Citroen, Methold has found the move into the part-time portfolio world beneficial in so many ways. Not only has he been able to enjoy more family and leisure time but he’s had the pleasure of coaching and mentoring people working within his clients’ companies.

“My greatest satisfaction comes from coaching and mentoring people within these companies so they become self-sufficient and can do more and more of the work themselves.

“Nowadays I say to clients ‘My success here will be inversely proportionate to the number of days I charge you. In other words, the more I can get your people to do the work on a daily basis the less I have to do’. I see it as my responsibility to ensure the work is done, not necessarily to do it all myself. I think that has a significant impact on client retention.”

So too does learning to adapt your style of working to each client, says Methold. It wasn’t something he was aware of when he first started out, he confesses.

“But one day, I was mowing the lawn and thinking it all through in my head. That’s when I realised I was being too harsh, too demanding, too assertive, too telling. You have to be direct in a big company because there are shareholders and high expectations.

“But that doesn’t work with SMEs. You have to use a different style—you have to be softer and more accepting that things don’t necessarily move as quickly as they do at large corporations and that there are going to be different priorities.”

It was when he began to adapt his style of working to suit each client rather than going in “full guns blazing” that he started to enjoy much better relationships. It’s why he has retained his clients for so long, he says.

“You can’t go in and be all corporate. SMEs don’t want that. They want someone they can trust and rely on and build a good relationship with. A friendly face. Not just a very clever big shot. You need to be down to earth and be (remove ‘be’) people-focused.

“When I really accepted that and started to slow down my own pace I become more accepted. You have to adjust and be a bit of a chameleon to suit how they are and not how you think they should be.”

Citroen says the ability to communicate is critical in your role as a part-time FD. “You have to have the ability to talk to your clients on a personal level and to be able to relax with them. Clients will call you late at night or on a weekend because they’ve had an idea they’re excited about and want to share with you. People who can’t handle that aren’t successful as part-time FDs.”

Both he and Methold agree that time management is key to success in the part-time portfolio environment.

“Although I’m not in contact with my clients every day, I do keep in touch with them every week, whether it’s a phone call, text, or email,” says Citroen. “It’s all part of the relationship I have with my clients.”

Successful part-time FDs need to take the initiative when it comes to client contact, says Methold. “You have to work really hard at proactive communication with your clients. It’s easy then for them to see you are valuable. I will go to see a client, and on the way home has three 20-minute conversations with three other clients who I haven’t been with that day just to keep moving them forward.

“You have to commit to doing that extra stuff. You can’t just go in for a day, leave and send a bill.”

This obviously takes a lot of organisation, and that’s another skill a successful part-time FD must have (or develop!), he says.

“I have various lists, so I know what I have to do and at what point each week to make sure I don’t drop any balls because when you have lots of clients doing different things, it’s very easy to forget stuff.

“You need to be aware of what’s happening with each client and what you last spoke about. You can’t go, ‘Ah, can’t remember that last meeting. Sorry.’ When they are talking to you, you are their FD.”

Being willing to deliver such high-quality service is something that makes a difference when it comes to client retention, he says.

“Clients really do value that you put yourself out to ring them at the weekend or speak to them late at night or when you’re on your holiday. That s when you and the clients really do start to cement the relationship.”

The relationships you have with clients are what helps to make this such a rewarding way of life, he says.

Citroen agrees, adding that working full-time for one company pales in comparison with working part-time across a number of growing businesses. “The job satisfaction you get working as a part-time FD is enormous. I would definitely never go back to full-time employment.”

If you would like to find out more click this link:

Vital Certificates Ltd – Experts at Preparing Documents Issued in one Country to be used in another – become National Amazon Finalist

Vital Certificates Ltd – Experts at Preparing Documents Issued in one Country to be used in another – become National Amazon Finalist

Interview with Vital Certificates:

How does it feel to be a finalist in the National Amazon award for Triumph over Adversity?

It feels fantastic. This is validation really that what we decided to do has worked. I think it is good for everybody involved and all the hard work we have put in has actually been worthwhile.

Can you explain what Vital Certificates Ltd does?

Our core business is to take documents that have been issued in one country and do what is necessary to make them valid and usable officially in another country. When people go to work or study abroad they often have to have documents such as birth certificates or academic qualifications officially validated. The process essentially involves joining up different government departments from the governments of different countries via their embassies and foreign offices. The value that we bring is to essentially understand what is needed to take a document of type X that’s been issued in country Y and make it useable in-country Z. We can provide this process not just for the UK, but for most countries worldwide and, as you can imagine, it can be a bureaucratic minefield. We have a group of partners around the world that assist us with the preparation of non-UK-issued documents. By virtue of having developed that worldwide network and global reach, we can do some things that we could never have done before such as taking an Australian document and making it usable in Argentina for example. Our customers include individuals but are increasingly companies, some of them very large, that move people around the world frequently.

What do you feel got Virtual Certificates to this point?

Determination to not let challenges get on top of us and to be very focused on what it is we do. We decided a few years back to focus our efforts on the elements of the business that represent is higher value both to us and in value to our clients. We also decided to open up a direct sales channel and to open branches overseas in Dubai, and soon in Qatar and Kuwait, despite the risks that decision represented. I think all of these combined have really elevated us above the competition. We also really enjoy what we do – we have had cases where we have stopped people from being thrown in prison or thrown out of the country!

We also realised that the quality of what we did was paramount given the nature of our work so we’ve focussed on improving that service to our clients by making sure we have the knowledge to deliver it consistently and by keeping them informed throughout the process. We developed our own software system which automatically updates the client as their documents move from one stage to the next. We have received feedback from clients to say that this is the thing that really helps them because they know things are progressing.

What are the essential ingredients which enabled Vital Certificates to overcome the difficulties you faced?

It’s that client-focused professional service and also putting a strong emphasis on the financial stability within the business. That’s meant we have been able to grow and invest for the future and that’s been a real game-changer for us. We were very much living from day to day, like a lot of small businesses do, and about a year ago we made some very significant steps in bolstering the quality and people involved in the business on the finance side. This has had a really positive effect and has given me fewer sleepless nights!

You’ve been working with your part-time FD for 8 months now. What was it that attracted Vital Certificates to the idea of a part-time FD?

Well with a business of our size, it would be hard to justify having a finance director full time. They are not the cheapest of resources but, they can bring a lot of value. Given the size of our business which nevertheless has its own complexities, having somebody part-time who understands the business and where we want to get to seemed very appealing. Also having someone who we can call on when needed is really beneficial. It also helped us to establish what we needed internally from the financial function and Mike was instrumental in assisting us to hire a new finance manager because he knew what questions to ask and what we really needed All in all is working out really well.

Lastly, as a National Amazon Award finalist and client of the FD Centre what advice would you give to other growth businesses who are considering taking on a part-time FD?

I think if you are considering it then do it! It might appear to be just a drain on cash, but the fact is that if you have somebody who really understands you and your business they can improve things like cash flow, your access to financial products, and many other aspects that actually deliver returns For the business. I would say go for it, I think we went into it as early as we could afford it and I think everybody should do the same!  (unless perhaps the head of the business has come from a finance background and effectively is the FD). If you haven’t got that person providing that function within the business I think you are doing yourself a disservice. People don’t know what they don’t know so surrounding yourself with people with other areas of knowledge and experience fills in the gaps which in turn ultimately leads to a positive benefit to the business.