When should a small business hire a finance assistant? What level of seniority should they be? And what does their day-to-day look like? Hiring your organisation’s first finance-focused employee is a daunting prospect, so here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about bringing someone in to take on that mantle.
When should I start thinking about recruiting a finance assistant?
It depends on how heavy the burden of day-to-day finance is on you or senior employees. In the early stages of a startup, it’s common for founders and senior stakeholders to tackle the finances themselves. Often, they have a grasp of the key metrics within the business and can outsource to accountants where necessary, which works perfectly well early on.
But issues arise when a company grows and the people you’re outsourcing to don’t have the business context to deal with what’s happening. When it becomes too much of an investment in time to regularly bring external finance professionals up to speed on the nuances of your business, it’s likely to be a good time to think about bringing someone in-house.
As always, when to do this depends on how your business is set up. For instance, if your business is invoice-heavy, then you may want to bring someone in earlier so they can take on the time-consuming but essential task of hammering phones and chasing down payments. If your organisation is more streamlined and this isn’t something you invest a lot of time in, then you could delay the hire for another six months.
It’s important to remember that, unlike many founders, the right finance professional will spot opportunities and identify when things are wrong with accounts or when things need to be filed and how.
So, when the day-to-day gets too excessive and you don’t want your founders or senior employees chasing up invoices or spending hours on the phone with HMRC, it’s probably time to think about creating a finance assistant role.
What will a finance assistant do?
When you hire a full-time finance professional, their remit is likely to be extremely broad. Below are a few of the things you may need your finance assistant to help with when they come in:
- Credit Control: keeping track of the debtors ledger and chasing clients who have overdue invoice
- Bank reconciliations: managing transactions that need to be reconciled.
- Invoicing: raising invoices to be sent to clients.
- Staff expenses: checking expense claims and ensuring these are paid to employees on time.
- Client queries: ensuring that finance queries from clients are responded to quickly and accurately.
- Managing daily bank reconciliations in a tool like Xero (a cloud-based accounting software platform) to ensure each company's accounts are updated quickly and accurately.
- Managing expense claims through a tool like Receipt Bank (an automated bookkeeping and data entry platform) and obtaining the necessary approvals from the business leads while ensuring claims are paid to employees on time.
- Running payroll each month
- Working on Excel to update monthly budgets and forecasts as well as providing key reporting to company leads.
- Managing the accounts email and working with relevant team members to ensure clients are responded to quickly.
- Setting up weekly payments with the bank to ensure suppliers are paid on time.
- Preparing quarterly VAT returns
- Implementing process improvements to your financial systems. As a business grows, it's imperative to evolve and develop tight financial processes to sustain this growth.
How senior should they be?
It’s likely to be a more junior role because of the nature of the work they’ll be undertaking. It’s a hard balance to strike, but you could look into apprenticeships. Just make sure you’re mindful of the level of experience you require and the skills your business needs. If the role you’ve created demands a higher level of financial knowledge, then you’ll want to avoid someone as junior as an apprentice.
It’s challenging to recruit someone more junior, but it’s also an opportunity for someone else in your team to develop their coaching and teaching skills by nurturing and developing the new finance assistant.
The importance of trust
Although it’s a more junior role, your finance assistant will have optics of everything across the business, which often only the founders or most senior people will have. Whoever you hire, you have to be able to trust them with the most sensitive information within the business.
Gauging how trustworthy someone is can be hard in the interview process, but it’s worth trying to tease it out as much as you can. Plus, when you’re recruiting your organisation’s finance assistant, you can always over-index on the referencing to give you peace of mind and a better sense of that individual’s character.